Managing holidays from dental school

Third year BDS student at the University of Birmingham and CGDent NextGen Ambassador, Christy Ng, offers advice on getting the most out of your holidays whilst at university.

Although dental school is fun and exciting, it is no secret that there are many challenges too – compared to other university courses, we often have longer terms and shorter holidays. When we finally approach the end of term, whilst tempting not to do anything during the break, it is best to plan in advance and make the most of the few weeks off. I have put together some tips to help you make full use of the holidays, ensure you relax and have fun whilst also using the time to support your university studies.

  1. Plan ahead with fun activities

    Thinking ahead and organising things to look forward to, can act as great motivation to work hard through the last weeks of term. With busy timetables, it can be easy to fall out of touch with your friends and family. Whether planning simple activities such as going for a walk or coffee, or even exploring another country together, these can be good ways to catch up and reconnect. Without a rough plan, the days can easily merge into each other, and the holiday passes more quickly than you think!
  1. Keep up good habits

    Whilst relaxing during the holiday, it is beneficial to maintain any healthy habits you develop at university – whether it be weekly runs, yoga classes or even daily meditation. As Dentistry can be a stressful degree, having methods to destress and unwind can be invaluable, and keeping these up, can provide structure to your day and will not seem like a chore once term begins again.
  1. Try something new

    With extra free time, the holidays can be a great time to try something different. Being in a different environment outside the ‘dentistry bubble’ can be refreshing, and enables you to strengthen essential skills such as communication and teamwork. You could join a local sports club, pick up a new hobby or find a holiday volunteer/job role.
  1. Review and reflect

    Reviewing does not mean having to revise every lecture and clinical term, as it is important to take a break! With high-paced learning and constant absorption of information, taking some time during the holiday to reflect on what you have learned and how much you have progressed can be a fulfilling experience. It is also a useful opportunity for you to make a ‘to-do list’ identifying any new targets (academic or social) and things you want to look over. This helps to streamline focus and separate into manageable targets, which you can gradually make a start on in the holiday if you would like to.
  1. And if you have upcoming exams

    Aside from on clinic, effective time management is a valuable quality especially if exams are nearby. Creating a revision timetable which splits the modules into chunks can be an effective way to ensure you maintain a healthy work-life balance. Split the day into rough segments, write daily manageable goals, and plan time to wind down and rest in between – for example, simply going out for lunch with your friends or learning to cook a nutritious meal. Remember, you will work more productively if you take breaks throughout the day.

There are so many possible things to do during the holidays – use this time to boost your energy and motivation during term. That’s why it is important to try planning ahead to utilise your free time, but remember no matter what you do during the break, make sure to prioritise your well-being and have a well-deserved rest!

Author bio

“I am currently in my third year studying Dentistry at the University of Birmingham. Now having started the clinical years, I have particularly enjoyed seeing my own patients and look forward to exploring new specialties – so far, I find restorative dentistry and oral surgery most interesting. In my spare time, I enjoy sewing and playing badminton.”

Christy Ng

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How to get the most out of your Foundation Training

Foundation Dentist and CGDent NextGen Ambassador, Dr Choudhury Rahman, describes his experience transitioning from undergraduate studies to Foundation Dental Training, along with tips on how to make this change smoother and get the most out of the year!

As I sat down waiting for my first patient as a qualified dentist, I debated how to introduce myself. Dr Rahman, or just Choudhury? I felt the same nerves I did when I saw my first patient as an undergrad, a sense of imposter syndrome. Am I really a dentist now?

When I think back to this time last year, running up to finals, wishing it would be over with, I never thought I would have learnt as much as I have now, in just a few months of FD training. Nothing quite prepares you for general practice.

The pace at which you learn and develop is unbelievable. From seeing three patients a day in the undergrad clinic to 20-30 in general practices, along with vast quantities of treatment. When people tell you that you’ll do more treatment in a month of FD vs the whole of undergrad, they aren’t joking.

Of course, the experience you get will depend on where you work. If you’re fortunate enough to work in an area of high needs like mine in Rochdale, you will get bags of treatment – lots of caries, restorations, extractions, and root canals. However, you may also work in an area where you can do more aesthetic work, or somewhere with great oral surgery experience.

Here are my tips on how to make the transition smoother and get the most out of your FD year:

  1. Spend time making good treatment plans

    Sit down with your Educational Supervisor (ES), discuss cases with them, and get help with deciding what treatment to do. This will be your biggest learning curve, deciding independently what treatment to do and when. The more experience you get doing this, the better you will be at planning by yourself over time. Remember, you don’t have to make it at your initial appointment, you can always bring the patient back for this.
  1. Don’t worry about how long you need for treatments

    Want to spend three hours doing a molar endo? Or two hours on some posterior composites? Do it. FD year is when you get the chance to spend as long as you want on the treatments you want to do. You aren’t paid by Units of Dental Activity (UDAs), you’re paid a fixed salary. Use the time you have to provide good, high-quality treatment, and then you can focus on building speed towards the later stages.
  1. Push yourself with complex treatments

    You will have the support of an Educational Supervisor by your side throughout the year. They are there to help you and guide you. Take on that difficult molar endo, and plan for that surgical extraction. It’s your one year where you have help at every step of the way if you need it.
  1. Build a good relationship with everyone at your practice

    From the receptionist, the practice principal, and of course, your nurses. If you build a good bond with your team, and look after them, they will look after you!

Overall it’s been a tremendous experience. I have been very fortunate to have an amazing practice and a supportive ES. FD training is a unique and enjoyable experience. You can practice all the things in dentistry you love, not worry about UDA targets or lab bills, and push yourself with challenging cases knowing someone has your back. But one thing is for sure, you will get out what you put into this year. If you put in 100%, you will get so much out of your FD year.

One last thing I recommend is to become a member of the College of General Dentistry. I’ve been told by many colleagues, at this stage of your career, the world is your oyster. It can be difficult to navigate and work out exactly what you want to do. Should I do Dental Core Training (DCT)? Is MFDS really worth it? What postgrad training course should I enrol for? These are all questions a mentor will help you answer when you enrol on their Certified Membership Scheme, which is crucial at this stage of your career.

Author bio

“I Graduated from University of Manchester in 2023 and am currently doing my FD Training in the Greater Manchester North Scheme. I’m also a NextGen Ambassador for the College of General Dentistry. My clinical interests include Oral Surgery and Prosthodontics. I aspire to become a well rounded GDP, able to provide full mouth rehabilitation including placement and restoration of implants. Outside of work, I enjoy running and 5-a-side football.”

Dr Choudhury Rahman

Using self-directed learning at dental school

Second year Dental Therapy and Hygiene student at the University of Portsmouth, Modupe Ilesanmi, advocates using self-directed learning to improve your performance at dental school.

What is self-directed learning?

Self-directed learning (SDL) is an approach to taking responsibility for acquiring knowledge on a particular subject matter in order to become proficient in that area.  In a didactic teaching method, the learner often takes on a passive role of receiving information. However, in a clinical environment such as dentistry, a student is presented with a variety of unique cases that raise questions on content learnt, so a didactic teaching method alone is not sufficient.  For instance, you could have a patient present with an unfamiliar case and you are expected to find appropriate resources that support your clinical judgement. Another example is where you venture on an in-depth learning journey on a topic of interest.

SDL initiates and shifts the student’s learning experience from a passive state to a state of autonomy, thereby providing room for learners to take the lead on their own learning experience. The academic then takes on the role of a facilitator and motivator rather than instructor.  Consequently, your learning ability and confidence as a student is enhanced.

What I’ve gained by using self-directed learning

Through self-directed learning, I’ve gained control over my academic trajectory. SDL allows me to dictate my educational needs and customise my learning schedule according to my preferences. With the flexibility to decide what, when, and how I learn, I’m able to progress at my own pace. In addition, I can hone my critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It enables me to analyse evidence and draw independent conclusions, skills essential for academic excellence and lifelong learning. Furthermore, SDL empowers me to set goals, manage my time effectively, and assess my progress. These self-regulation abilities not only enhance my academic performance but also serve as a valuable asset in advancing my career.

How to navigate self-directed learning in dental school

  1. Identify your learning needs

    The ability to apply the knowledge you have obtained is crucial in dentistry. In order to achieve this, thoroughly understanding the subject is vital. To understand a topic you must identify your knowledge gaps. To do this you have to be true to yourself. Write down everything you know about the topic then proceed to using resources such as lecture slides or textbooks to supplement what you know. This will eventually advance your proficiency in the subject matter. Knowledge gaps can also be identified through reflection on your performance and feedback from lecturers or peers.
  1. Determine the learning outcomes

    It is important to understand the objective of any particular learning. How is this going to help me as a student? The learning objective answers the question “why am I learning this?” Learning objectives also keep you on track. Set a number of questions around the subject matter that you should be able to understand by the end of the study.
  1. Gather a variety of sources for identified topics

    Depending on what you study, there are various resources you can use to gather the relevant information. For instance: protocols, guidelines, textbooks, evidence-based research. Knowing what type of resource you need is relevant to identifying the right information and will help you achieve your learning objective efficiently. An understanding of what each resource is and how to apply them is key.
  1. Narrow everything down to key points

    Narrow everything you found on the subject at hand to key points based on the learning objectives. Going back to your learning needs will help to keep you on track and not go off on a tangent.
  1. Retain the information

    An evidence-based method for retention is active recall and space repetition. Information that is not revisited will be eventually forgotten, whereas information that is consistently actively revisited, will be retained for a longer period of time. Try asking yourself questions about what you have learnt at different intervals. 

Top tips: in order to stay motivated, always remember the reason you are embarking on this study. Remember how this will help you be a better clinician in the long run. Be accountable to someone who will keep you in check. For dental students, developing a self-directed learning approach at university will be valuable throughout your career, especially for your continuing professional development.

Author bio

“I am a second year Dental Therapy and Hygiene student at the University of Portsmouth. I am keen on restorative dentistry. My hobbies outside of dental school are swimming and playing the piano.”

Modupe Ilesanmi

10 Top tips for starting your clinical placement

Fifth year BDS student at the University of Plymouth, Sona Dave, passes on her advice for a successful clinical placement.

The transition from non-clinical to clinical in Dentistry is a huge step-up, regardless of where you attend University. I have written this brief but jam-packed guide as I wish someone had given me tips before I started clinic/placement.

Starting to treat patients is a massive step-up from practicing on phantom heads and learning theory. Getting ready to start placement may seem overwhelming initially but remember to take the days as they come and to see each clinical session as a new opportunity to learn and grow.

I hope these tips can help you dive into your clinical career at university. Good luck!

  1. Look after yourself
    This is the best tip I have for any dental student.  Clinical days are very rewarding however they are also taxing mentally. In order to look after patients, you need to look after yourself.

    So, make sure that you are eating three healthy meals a day if possible, getting regular movement through physical exercise and practicing good sleep hygiene to ensure you are able to show up to placement as your most rested self. Some people find habit trackers helpful and others don’t, find out what works best for you and keep trying your best!
  1. Get on top of your time management
    Time management within Dentistry is key to ensuring a healthy work-life balance. Focusing on your degree is important for your future but you also need to prioritize your wellbeing and hobbies to ensure you don’t get burnout. Finding a balance will undeniably be an ongoing process with ebbs and flows so try to pace yourself through it. On way you could achieve this is by having a weekly diary with your top clinical / academic prioritises listed as well as a couple of fun activities to look forward to.
  1. Learn how to treatment plan correctly
    Treatment planning lies at the heart of everything we do. Ensure you follow a clear structure to your treatment planning and consent your patients properly by explaining the risks, benefits and alternatives to procedures.

    Evidence-based national guidance should inform and support your treatment plans.
  1. Get familiar with national guidelines
    This goes hand-in-hand with the above tip. Your life on placement and in dentistry in general, centres around evidence and guidance that helps us make informed clinical decisions.

    Popular national guidance includes but is not limited to:

    – College of General Dentistry (CGDent) – standards and guidance
    – – Delivering Better Oral Health
    – National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – Clinical Knowledge Summaries
    – NHS England – HTM-01-05 – Decontamination in primary care dental practices
    – Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme (SECEP) – Guidance

    Tip – if you become a member of CGDent, you can download their standards and guidance to your device so they’re always on hand when you need them. You can join as a Student Member for £11.
  1. Make a reference guide for placement
    Doing this will make your life so much easier on your clinical days. A resource could be something like a Word Document, OneNote, notebook with handwritten notes or a file with printouts. It may be worthwhile to include guides for procedures you have learnt so far at university. They will act as a useful reference if you find yourself attempting a new procedure in clinic.
  1. Make clinical templates
    Making templates that you can transfer over to your dental notes system for things such as new patient exams, recalls, extractions and fillings will save you a lot of time during your day. It increases your efficiency during appointments making sure you don’t feel rushed.
  1. Keep track of the procedures you do and reflect on them
    Despite sometimes feeling like an arduous task, reflection is perhaps one of the most useful tools we have in Dentistry. It gives us the benefit of hindsight to improve our clinical practice. I would recommend attempting to record the procedures you are able to complete on placement and give a brief description of how the procedure went and a short reflection. This could be at the end of the day where you have a spare few minutes. In the long run, it will help you become the best clinician you can be.
  1. Make good use of your free time on placement
    If you happen to have a patient cancellation, do not just leave to go home. I know it may seem tempting and very easy to do but in the long run it is better if you try to use this time wisely. You could fill this time in by practising on one of your phantom heads if possible, or alternatively you could pick the brains of your supervisors and ask them about one of your interesting cases or if they have any tips.
  1. Start learning the importance of clinical photographs
    Clinical photographs are immensely useful in our careers. Whether it’s to show patients before and after pictures, to keep a record of your own portfolio or to send off intra-oral pictures for referrals, they are paramount to our everyday practice.

    Taking good pictures is a skill that is built upon over time. However, the earlier you start the better you will be by the time you graduate. It’s always worthwhile asking your supervisors on any tips and tricks they may have to capture the best shots of your clinical work. Read the blog ‘Why taking photos is an essential skill in dentistry’ for some useful advice.
  1. Dental school is a journey
    Understand that your time at university is a journey and not a competition. Your job as a student is to do better than you did yesterday. It is easy to get swept up in the motions and start comparing yourself to others, but this is not productive nor helpful to you or others. So, remember to do your best, be kind and try to help your fellow students where you can.

Author bio

“I am in Year 5 of the BDS at the University of Plymouth. My particular areas of interest in dentistry are oral surgery, dental public health and special care dentistry. When I’m not studying, I practice yoga and like reading and running.”

Sona Dave

Working with your clinical partner

Both in the fourth year of the BDS at the University of Plymouth, Dilan Patel and Alan Al-Zahawi share their advice on effective teamwork during clinics.

A guide to effective teamwork in clinics

What is the importance of working as an effective team?

The importance of effective teamwork is not limited to qualified dental practitioners. As students it is important to remember that we have a duty of care towards our patients and without an effective team, we may jeopardise the quality of treatment that we provide. Successful teamwork enhances patient care, safety, satisfaction, promotes efficiency, and allows dentists to provide comprehensive services while adhering to professional standards and regulations.

Steps to take in clinic to ensure effective teamwork

  1. Plan. At the beginning of the day, have a 5 minute brief with your partner outlining the day ahead. This will give you a good opportunity to plan for each appointment, prepare your station, and familiarise yourself with each other’s patients. This will greatly aid your time management and therefore ensure a more efficient use of the limited time you have with your patients.
  1. Mistakes get made. Your partner may be late, may forget certain instruments or be a bit slow with assisting during the appointment, but you must remember that they are not a trained nurse and are learning at the same time as you. By setting unrealistic expectations you will hinder the efficacy of your team. Both you and your partner must take ownership of your mistakes, learn from them and support each other to ensure they do not happen again.
  1. Maintain confidence. Your partner may be struggling or having difficulties with the treatment they are providing for the patient. It is imperative that you do not undermine them or say something that could affect the patient’s confidence in their abilities. If you feel like there is something important they have missed, then it would be better to have the discussion in a discrete manner or in private.
  1. Be encouraging. At dental school we are often faced with procedures that are new to us which can sometimes be nerve-wracking. Encouraging your partner and keeping their morale high can be of great help in boosting their confidence and keeping a positive mindset going in to the appointment. A confident and motivated clinical partner is more likely to provide high-quality patient care. This, in turn, leads to increased patient satisfaction and engagement.
  1. Reflect. At the end of the day it can be extremely valuable to have a debrief regarding the positives and negatives of the day. This is a good time to reflect on what went well and what can be improved upon in the future. Reflection is a powerful tool which when done regularly can help you develop your skills, improve your patient care and maintain a high standard of practice. This is achieved through identifying weaknesses and setting SMART goals.


The steps outlined above are not exclusive to dental school. They are transferrable to practice and even to every day life. Dentistry is an ever-changing field of study which inevitably comes with its many challenges. Effective teamwork guided by the principles of planning, support, confidence, encouragement and reflection, can be pivotal in ensuring the well-being of our patients and our success as current students and future dental practitioners.

Author bio

Dilan Patel

“I am currently in my fourth year at Peninsula Dental School. Since we began seeing patients in our first year I have had the opportunity to see a variety of cases and learnt a great deal throughout this time. I thoroughly enjoy seeing the patient satisfaction that can be achieved through treatment and have developed a great interest in Oral Surgery and Regenerative Dentistry which I would like to pursue in the future.

“Outside of dental school I spend my time travelling, playing golf and playing the saxophone which helps me find a balance between university and my own time.”

Alan Al-Zahawi

“I am currently in my fourth year at Peninsula Dental School based in Plymouth and the southwest region. In fourth year, we all live in Truro (the only city in Cornwall), where we see patients three times a week at a dental educational facility based at The Royal Cornwall Hospital. I have really enjoyed the increase in clinical time this year, especially the higher volume of prosthodontic work we are carrying out.

“My hobbies outside of dental school include exploring the beaches around Cornwall and playing golf if the weather permits.”

Get published!

Clare Denton, editor of Bites, the College’s monthly e-newsletter, offers advice on getting your writing published.

It is becoming increasingly common for dental practitioners to raise their professional profile by creating interesting, relevant content and getting it published on one of the many platforms and channels now available. The Primary Dental Journal (PDJ), is the College’s quarterly, peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles written by a variety of authors. You can read the specific author guidelines for the PDJ here.

There are several types of writing you can generate – reporting on clinical research, opinion pieces or more informal writing about experiences and ideas. If you specifically want information about conducting clinical research and publishing the results, you’ll find a comprehensive and free set of guidance on the CGDent website which will tell you everything you need to know – An Introduction to Research for Primary Dental Care Clinicians.

Here are some general tips about how to be a successful writer and publish your work.

1.  Choosing your audience and topic 

Your audience and article topic go hand-in-hand. Particular topics, or the angle you choose to focus on, may only interest dental professionals with certain special interests, and vice versa.  It’s crucial that your topic, the angle you take and your audience all align. It helps if you’re interested in the subject matter too. 

Read other articles on your chosen subject. Is there already a lot written about this? Can you approach the issue from a new perspective?

2.  Identify where you want your work to be published

Different channels and mediums demand different styles and tone of writing. A blog can be informal, whereas an article in a peer-reviewed journal would demand a more formal, academic style. Many publications have specific editorial guidelines to follow. Contact the Editor before you start writing to ensure they would consider publishing your writing. 

3.  Plan your work

Contact the publication’s Editor or editorial team and ask for clear deadlines and a schedule for the issue. You’ll need to know when you will receive peer review comments or editorial feedback, and when you are expected to have revised your paper. Most journals ask for a quick turnaround (three days usually) which you need to be prepared for.

4.  Attention-grabbing headline 

Although the title is the first thing your reader will see, it’s a good idea to leave composing it until you’ve finished writing your piece; the stand-out point of your piece will be much clearer. Titles should be eye-catching, humorous or clever, but also a true summary of the content.

5.  Give credit where it’s due

Compelling images or video to accompany your article are vital. Check the copyright of any visual material included and if necessary, obtain a permissions licence from the copyright holders and credit them. 

6.  Include a variety of voices

Incorporate poignant quotations from different stakeholders to bring your work to life. Quotations reinforce and validate the points you are making, add more detail and give a personal perspective from key players. If quoting from existing published work, make sure to cite the sources on your reference list.

Author bio

I have been the Editor of Bites since 2017, when I first started working with the Faculty of General Dental Practice and now the College of General Dentistry. My career in marketing and communications is centred around creating engaging content in digital and print, and I particularly enjoy the visual and editorial challenges this brings. When I’m not working, I manage a busy family life and indulge in long-distance running (my longest race so far is a half-marathon) and discussing the latest reads with my book club.

If you’re a CGDent Member and would like to write a blog for our Student Advice page, get in touch and tell us about your blog idea at [email protected]

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.

Tips for a successful first year at dental school

Sana Hussain, second year BDS student at King’s College London, describes how she made the most of her first year at dental school.

Starting the first year of dental school comes with a mixture of emotions – excitement, anticipation, enthusiasm – and it is completely normal to also feel slightly overwhelmed. I have recently finished my first year and have learned many tips about enjoying life at dental school, that I wish I had known earlier.

Time management at dental school will be the biggest determinator of both your success and how much fun you have. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of allowing studying to take over your day-to-day life, so it’s important to balance this. Despite what other people may tell you, dental school isn’t only about lectures and studying.

Schedule down time

My first piece of advice would be to schedule down time. This can look different for everyone; it could be a few hours a week for sports, or any activity that relaxes you. Ensuring you have a few hours a week to do this activity means you feel ready for the next week of learning. I joined a netball team where I have made many great friendships and met so many new people. I found it was a great way for me to unwind and do something I really enjoyed.

Keep a to-do list

Having a to-do list can be extremely helpful as it allows you to stay on top of lectures. It can become so easy to end up with a never-ending list of lectures if you leave them to the last minute, so make sure you do them as you go along the academic year. Consistency is the goal. Doing a little often means you are less likely to feel overwhelmed. By having a to-do list, you have a clear idea of how many lectures need to be done and how long they will take. By the time your end of year examinations come around, you hopefully won’t feel the stress of cramming and can avoid any unnecessary panic.

Join a society

During dental school, you will meet so many new people and have lots of new experiences. A great way to meet new people is through societies. Universities offer a wide range of societies that focus on all sorts of areas such as sports, world food, or the creative arts, so try to join the societies that interest you. There is probably a society for any hobby you already have, no matter how unique. And of course, societies are a fantastic way to pursue new interests, in things you might have not even heard of before.

Experiment with study techniques

The last thing I’d like to mention is studying techniques. It might be a while until you truly figure out what works best for you, whether that’s flashcards or mind maps. There’s no specific way to revise and you might find that a mixture of different ways of revising works best for you. It might also be the case that the way you have previously revised no longer works for you anymore and that’s completely okay. It took me a few months to find what worked best for me and even now, I still try to change some aspects of my revision. Don’t feel pressured into thinking there is a set time by which you have to know what works well for you.

Consider joining a study group

Study groups are another good way to revise. I found learning and going over content with others consolidated what I knew and highlighted the topics I didn’t. This way I was able to target my revision more effectively.

Many people forget that although part of life at dental school is revision and studying, it is not the entirety of your experience. If you only take away one piece of advice from this blog, please remember to enjoy dental school and make time to do the things you love the most.

Author bio

“I am currently in my second year of dentistry at Kings College London. Since I have only just finished my first year, I am keen to learn more about all the different specialities that dentistry offers. Outside of dental school, I enjoy playing netball and tennis in my spare time. I am also a huge fan of trying new foods and cuisines, always searching for the best new restaurant.”

Sana Hussain

This student advice blog was published in September 2022.

Why taking photos is an essential skill in dentistry

Mohammed Ahsen Arshad and Ahmed Ahmed, fifth year BDS students at Plymouth University Dental School,  explain the importance of good photography skills in dentistry and how to get accurate and effective images.

Being able to take good photographs is key skill that dental care practitioners (DCP) must possess and develop, as it allows them to do a multitude of things including: 

  • keep an accurate record of patients’ presenting dentition
  • convey more information when referring to lab, especially helpful in anterior restorations 
  • provide a powerful diagnostic aid when treating and referring patients  
  • allows DCPs to illustrate the effectiveness of their treatment  
  • useful for auditing restorations especially when considering Aesthetics 
  • marketing clinical abilities as a dentist through social media and clinical articles.  

In dental school you will be provided with a camera and undergo some training but the best way to learn is to practice and get comfortable with the setup. Quite often this is the first time you will encounter a Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) and have to shoot manually. Learning to take photos in dental school will aid you in exit case presentations, and much more, and is an invaluable skill which you will carry throughout the rest of your career.


Before you can take any photographs you must obtain valid consent and explain the purpose of the photographs. This could include recording wear, presentations, comparing shade after bleaching, educational purposes for illustrating soft tissue/hard tissue lesions. You must also inform the patient where these pictures may be used or posted. Photographs are often anonymized so patients need not worry about their confidentiality.  

Camera setup and settings 

In a standard setup you will need:

  • your camera body,
  • a macro lens (the larger the focal length the further away you can be from the patient whilst taking photos)
  • a ring flash.

Before you can make any adjustments you need to understand the basic function of each setting. As changing each one will lead to different results. 

Aperture is the size of the opening in which light passes through and is controlled via F values. 

Speed is how long the camera is open for this can be as little as 1/8000 seconds and as high as 30 seconds. 

ISO is sensitivity to light – as it increases the camera becomes more sensitive and can range from 100 to 6400. 

White balance is the process of removing unrealistic colour casts, so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your photo. It is best to set the camera to daylight or 5500k.  

Top tips  

Use a scratch free mirror and don’t let it fog up. You can achieve this by warming your mirror up under some warm water beforehand.  

Keep the focal length the same in before and after photos, in side-by-side comparisons this will look much better.  

Don’t be afraid to move the patient, yourself and the chair as positioning is key  

Communicate with the patient and your nurse   

Use small cheek retractors  

Eliminate debris and distractions (saliva, makeup and lipstick) 

Ask for advice – your supervisor will have much more experience than you, ask them to show you how to take the best photos and how they do it

Finally, practice on each other.

Recommended settings 


Exposure mode: M 


Speed: 80 

ISO: 200 


Exposure mode: M 

Aperture: F22 

Speed: 200 

ISO: 200 

Recommended positions   

Front view 

  • Teeth should be in full contact 
  • Show as much gingivae as possible 
  • Midline of the face should be used as a vertical midline of the photo 
  • Position of the camera directly in front and 90 degrees to subject 

 Lateral view 

  • Contra-lateral central incisor and contralateral lateral incisor and canine should be visible.  
  • Centre the photo on lateral incisor/canine region 
  • Vertical midline of the photo should be the lateral incisor/canine 
  • The horizontal midline of the photo should be in the incisal plane. 

 Upper occlusal: 

  • Patient position: Fully reclined, take photographs from behind patient if possible. 
  • Always use mirrors or retractors if possible. 
  • The buccal contour of upper centrals should be visible near the edge of the photo. 
  • Frame the photo so mirror edges are as minimized as possible. 
  • 45 degrees to the mirror surface 
  • Show as many teeth as possible. 

Lower occlusal:  

  • Patient position: Slightly reclined and head tilted back. 
  • Always use mirrors and retractors if possible 
  • Eliminate fog on mirror, can be done by warming mirror up with hot water 
  • 45 degrees to the mirror surface 
  • Show as many teeth as you can 
  • Photo should show: Incisal edges of incisors and facial and lingual embrasures.  

Author bio

I am entering the final year of the BDS curriculum at Peninsula Dental School. I look forward to treating patients and further developing my skills as a clinician. I have found a particular interest in restorative dentistry, OMFS and oral surgery. 

Outside university, I like travelling and learning about different cultures, reading about anthropology, playing chess and enjoy sports such as cardiovascular endurance training, swimming, football and basketball. In the future I look forward to graduating and starting DFT in 2021.

Ahmed Ahmed

I am entering my final year of study this year at Plymouth university. I look forward to graduating and starting DFT in 2021. Whilst at university, I have found an interest in oral and maxillofacial surgery in particular head and neck cancer surgery. 

Outside of university, my hobbies include playing sports, travelling and photography. Last summer I went to Japan and discovered a new passion for baseball which I hope to pursue further.

Mohammed Ahsen Arshad

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in August 2020 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.

Get the most out of your elective

Ridah Hasan, fourth year BDS student at the University of Sheffield, valued her recent elective in Vietnam and offers her advice on how to get the most out of your elective abroad.

I was lucky enough to go on my dental elective to Vietnam in February 2020. As soon as I got back, it was a matter of days before the UK was put under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve spent the last few months working on my elective project and reminiscing on my time away. I know it may be a while before we’re allowed to travel overseas again, but I wanted to put together a short guide on how to get the most out of your elective abroad and some tips I wish I knew before.

How to get the most out of your elective:

1. Start your planning early!

I found it really difficult planning my elective whilst having a full timetable at uni. Starting early is definitely something I would recommend as it gave me plenty of time to organise my elective and it also meant that I was getting flights and hotels for a lot cheaper than if I had booked closer to elective dates.
Make to-do lists and make sure you remember important things like getting your travel vaccinations – especially because you usually need to get multiple jabs and they can be spaced out over 6-8 weeks.

2. Plan your elective budget

I had been saving up for my elective since my first year of university as I knew I wanted to take the opportunity in my fourth year. It’s important that you plan your finances beforehand so that you can decide on your elective location accordingly. I would also recommend researching bursaries and scholarships that are out there for students – your university’s finance team may be able to help with this.
Instead, you may decide to do your elective in the UK, which will save you costs on travelling but many elective hosts in the UK also have an application fee.

3. Research your elective host well

The main reason you are on your elective is for the Dentistry, it’s not just a long holiday! It’s tempting to base your trip on places you want to see but it’s so important that you research your elective host properly. For me, it was important that I got to treat patients whilst away as I wanted to experience delivering treatment in an unfamiliar and challenging environment. I was lucky that I found an elective centre that allowed students to get involved but there are some out there that only let you observe.

4. Make a well-thought out itinerary

Making an itinerary helped me visit all the places I wanted to see whilst away, and it also helped me budget my money. I knew exactly where I was going on each day and could roughly plan my expenses depending on entry costs to certain tourist attractions. I never felt lost or overwhelmed which is common when travelling and trying to make the most of your time away. I also sent a copy of my final itinerary to my family so that they knew where I would be each day.

5. Learn some useful phrases in the language spoken in your elective country

As soon as I landed in Vietnam, I had no internet but had to ask for directions to the taxi stand outside the airport. I was so happy that I had jotted down some useful phrases!
Communication when treating patients is essential so learning some phrases or even how to count helps with this. It also shows that you’ve made an effort and are trying to get the most out of this opportunity. During breaks at my elective centre, we would practise counting to 20 so that we could count out loud when we were waiting for the acid etch or light cure.

I hope you found these tips useful – don’t forget to take lots of pictures and videos whilst you’re out there and have a brilliant elective! Good luck and stay safe!

Author bio

I am currently a year 4 BDS student at the University of Sheffield. During my time at university, I have discovered a particular interest in Restorative Dentistry and Oral Medicine. I hope to pursue my interest in this field following qualification, by applying for hospital jobs and attending related events and conferences. 

In my free time, I enjoy reading film magazines and contributing to film blogs. I also run a food blog on social media and enjoy trying new dishes, which I review on my page and sometimes attempt to recreate.

I am also learning sign language, and am a member of my university’s sign language society.

Ridah Hasan

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in July 2020 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.

Clinical reflections dissected

Aavan K Matharu, fourth year BDS student, Trinity College Dublin, shares her advice on writing an effective and meaningful clinical reflection.

As we treat patients in dental school, we begin the process of learning, growing, and understanding the importance of patient management and care. This process comprises of a unique experience, specific to each patient and individual, and essentially contributes to the development of a clinician. One of the most important things to keep in mind after assessing patients and completing their treatment is a reflection, of which many of us must complete for our portfolios during dental school. 

Carrying out a good clinical reflection becomes one of the many skills that are integral to the ongoing growth throughout one’s professional career. To help you understand the purpose of a reflection and how they are written, here are a few pointers I have put together to help you ace your portfolio or even help you deliberate on your clinical experiences.

  • What is the purpose of a reflection? 

The main idea behind a reflection is to understand what you did for the patient, why it was relevant, and what successes and challenges you had along the way. Each reflection is unique not only from a patient standpoint but also from a clinician’s perspective, and its importance lies in what you took away from the experience as a whole. When reflecting, think about how you felt during the procedure (was it stressful, was it rewarding), what you achieved, and what you struggled with or would change for next time. Giving yourself this opportunity allows you to better yourself, learn from your experiences, and overall, progress holistically as a growing clinical practitioner. 

  • Choosing a Model

Reflections can be structured using various types of models such as the DIEP model or the O’Driscoll model (what, so what, and now what). Most dental schools recommend these templates as it gives a reader/writer a simple, but well-rounded idea around what the reflection entails. As a student or clinician, the best way to choose a model is to select the one that best resonates with you and your thinking/writing style. This will help to guide your thought process while keeping your reflections on track and avoiding long, unnecessary essays. 

  • Avoid Explaining the Treatment

When writing a reflection, do not explain the entire treatment provided to the patient. Feel free to summarize the diagnosis and the treatment provided but do not describe how you performed the root canal, prepared a tooth for a crown prep, etc. Instead, explain how you had difficulties and successes while doing these procedures and how the procedures made you problem solve as a clinician. For example, if you completed a restoration, reflect on certain experiences (such as if the patient was nervous or had a limited mouth opening) and ask yourself questions like:   
–    How did you problem-solve?
–    How did you communicate?
–    Was there anything you did to make the patient more comfortable?
–    What could you have done that could have made the experience better for you and the patient?… and so on.

  • Make it Bespoke 

Some patients come with many challenges whereas others are simple and straightforward. One thing all your patients have in common is that they are all helping you grow as a clinician. So, when reflecting/writing about each experience, be unique and genuine in the way you critique how each patient tested you and helped you flourish. No two patients are the same, and the way you treat patients, communicate with them, and take care of them will always be slightly different. 

I hope these tips are useful to you during your portfolio write-up. Keep in mind that a reflection is all about how and why you did what you did but also what you could have done better from all aspects of the treatment. All the best! 

Author bio

“I am a fourth-year dental student presently attending Trinity College Dublin. Over the past three years, I have developed a keen interest in Endodontics and Restorative Dentistry. With one year of dental school remaining, I would love to be able to expand my knowledge in regards to what these fields offer by performing research with specialists and attending relevant conferences.

Apart from dentistry, I enjoy drawing/sketching and immersing myself in astronomy and cosmology. I also adore traveling and visiting multiple countries within four different continents has given me the opportunity to appreciate new cultures, food, and languages.”

Aavan K Matharu

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in June 2021 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.