Top 15 Skills Needed to Become a Dentist

Do you have what it takes to be a dentist? Check if your skills line up.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Person using all of their dentist skills to help a patient

career in dentistry is highly rewarding, enabling you to embrace different challenges as you treat, assist, and engage with patients.

Whether you’re working with children or adults, you must have the correct chairside skills to ensure the comfort of every one of your patients during a typical workday

These are not exclusive to the particular profession; it is a mixture of technical and interpersonal skills that allow you to interact and communicate with colleagues and clients successfully and sensibly.

Beyond your medical knowledge, your success as a dentist has a great deal to do with how you connect with your patients and positively influence them

So, here are 15 of the top skills needed to be a dentist.

1. Enthusiasm

Being able to connect with every patient should never be underestimated. It doesn’t matter how many patients you see in a given day — you need to show individual interest to the person sitting in the patient’s chair.

When you radiate enthusiasm to your patients, this will have a significant impact on their care, too. By bringing life to all of your conversations and showing that you are sincerely enthusiastic about who they are what’s going on in their life, they’ll likely feel inclined to become regular patients of yours and also recommend you to others. 

2. Communication

Dentists work with people on a daily basis and therefore need to have excellent communication skills. Unsurprisingly, many people believe they do not necessarily need this skill to become medical professionals.

However, if you cannot interact and communicate with your clients, you might not be able to answer their questions and meet their needs. As a result, they might be reluctant to return in the future. Even if you are an excellent dentist on a technical level, they will want to visit someone who they feel comfortable with.

Aside from your patients, you’ll be working with receptionists, hygienists, nurses, lab technicians and so on, all of whom you need to be able to communicate with and have a positive relationship with.

3. Attention to detail 

A successful dentist must have the skills and techniques needed to augment the appearance, color, shape, alignment and size of someone’s teeth. Often, this profession is referred to as an art that requires a high level of mastery and attention to detail to create a beautiful smile that the patient is happy with.

Remember, you are working with people, and you have to be able to meet all their needs. Dental work should always look natural, and your attention to small details could make all the difference here. Dentists must be detail-oriented to perform their work successfully.

Being a detail-oriented individual will also be important when you are examining your patients, as you don’t want to miss something during your treatments or diagnosis of a patient. 

4. Manual dexterity 

Dentists need to perform restorations and other procedures that can only be successful if performed meticulously. The mouth is a small space to work with, and the smallest misalignment can create more harm than good. 

Restorations need to be cleaned thoroughly, and you need a deep working knowledge of medicine, physics, artistry and materials for each treatment to be a success.

For example, having a filling fitted can be uncomfortable, especially if it is too high up. It takes a lot of skill to return the tooth to its original structure and ensure the customer can eat, sleep and rest comfortably. 

You also need superior hand-eye coordination to ensure the integrity of your work and the safety of your patients.

5. Problem-solving

You must also be prepared to think fast and think outside the box to provide the highest-quality treatment for your patients. For instance, when a medical emergency arises, you need to be able to think on your feet and use your sense of judgement to make swift decisions. Sharp problem-solving skills are also necessary to manage your team, run your business and deal with other non-medical issues.

6. Compassion 

If you’re doing this job exclusively for the money, you’re probably not going to enjoy it. In every dental care treatment you carry out, your patient’s needs should come first. Every action must be justified, and you should always be transparent and compassionate towards your patients.

Don’t forget, a lot of people are terrified of visiting the dentist! Therefore, you need to be able to gain a patient’s trust and make them feel relaxed in your presence. By being a compassionate individual, this can be easily achieved.

7. Leadership 

A top dentist skill is leadership. Practising dentists must employ leadership daily, especially when it comes to leading an office of staff. You not only need to make decisions but also communicate with your team to positively influence their actions and behaviors. To develop a synergy of trust between you and your team, you need to be a good leader. This will also contribute to the success of your practice.

8. Calmness  

As mentioned above, many people are terrified of visiting the dentist, or they are at least a little nervous before and during their appointment! Having a calm demeanor will certainly put the patient at ease — at least to an extent. Your soothing presence and composure will also help you work scrupulously in this small and highly sensitive part of the body.

Your ability to remain calm will also create a good working relationship with your team — especially your assistant, who will be there to support you throughout all procedures.

9. Working under pressure 

Being a dentist is a high-stress and high-risk career that requires the ability to work well under pressure. Dentists often have to deal with difficult scenarios, such as running behind schedule and treating challenging patients.

A great way to learn how to manage stress as a dental practitioner is to have a network of support, including mentors, who you can discuss your challenges with and exchange ideas about treatments. This will help you to grow confidently throughout your career as a practitioner, which will naturally lead to you providing better treatments for your patients. It will also enable you to face difficult situations head-on whilst working under pressure.

10. Adaptability 

Even when you do become a qualified dentist, you still need to keep up with the latest advancements in your field and refine your skills. 

It’s essential to have the desire to learn new things and stay on top of the latest industry developments, tools and techniques. You need to be excited about the profession you work in and be adaptable to change. This will enable you to enhance your treatments and provide specialized care to your patients.

11. Negotiation

No one likes to be the receiver of bad news. If you make a diagnosis and suggest a treatment, your patient might want to hear none of it — especially if it’s a major dental procedure, such as bone grafting. Being able to explain why they need to proceed, and openly disagree with them if you must, is an important skill to have.

Though it can get frustrating trying to convince someone to trust you and to take care of their own health, you’ll have to maintain a friendly, reassuring tone when doing so. That’s why negotiation is a soft skill every dentist should develop.

12. Enjoying close personal interaction

Some jobs, like accounting and technical writing, require little social interaction. If you lean towards the introspective, reserved side of the personality spectrum, chances are that these more introverted professions might be more right for you than dentistry.

A job in dental health requires spending lots of time hunched over people and staring directly into their oral cavity. Imagine how much more uncomfortable that would be if the mere idea of personal space being invaded makes you cringe.

13. Accountability

Although accountability is important in any work environment, it’s all the more vital in a setting where people’s health is concerned.

When clinical or managerial mistakes happen, it’s important to avoid blaming your patients or team members. Instead, you should be receptive to admitting your own mistakes and learning from them; that’s a fail-safe way of ensuring you’ll advance your career. This is especially important if you have your own private practice, as good leadership skills leave no room for shunning responsibility.

14. Professionalism

If we asked you to describe a professional-looking dentist, you would likely refer to a combination of skills and behaviors that would put a patient’s mind at ease. With an estimated 36% of the population struggling with dentophobia, you might need to work extra hard to convince your patients that they shouldn’t be afraid of you.

This means maintaining a relaxed, positive attitude, even under stress, as well as mastering the art of small talk. To do this, looking after your own physical and mental health becomes a prerequisite.

15. Focus

Dental drills spin at thousands of revolutions per minute, and their drill bits are made of tough materials like stainless steel and diamond. To avoid damaging the gums and tongue, dentists don’t just need manual dexterity, they need the ability to maintain their focus for long periods of time.

To state the obvious, teeth have really small surface areas. Not only that, they are attached to human heads that might sometimes move. This means that dentists should be able to fix their attention on a few square millimeters at a time and not lose focus. Thankfully, dental school largely prepares you for that.

Final thoughts

While a dentist’s skillset is largely technical, you still need to have strong relational skills for your patients to feel safe under your care. Interpersonal skills will also come in handy when working alongside other professionals in a team, including dental nurses and dental hygienists.

Despite this profession being demanding, in that it requires a combination of technical and soft skills, it’s also highly rewarding. This is because dentists’ work has a far-reaching impact and benefits more than just the teeth and gums of the people they treat. Good oral health promotes physical and emotional well-being, as the oral cavity is the gateway to the digestive and respiratory systems. It’s accurate to say, then, that dentistry plays a big role in protecting and promoting public health.

Can you think of any other skills that a dentist needs to have? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!


Originally published 9 November 2020. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.