Top 10 Skills Needed to Become a Dentist

Illustration of a female dentist treating a young 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 10 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, colour, 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 treatment that 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 at 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 behaviours. 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 demeanour 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 specialised care to your patients.  

If you want to thrive in your career– and enjoy what you do as a dentist – you need to possess the above skills. While a dentist’s skillset is mostly technical, you will still need to have certain interpersonal skills for your patients to feel safe under your care.

What other skills does a dentist need? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 2 February 2015.