Skip to main content

A day in the life of a dentist – by Viet Nguyen


“It is 7am and my iPhone alarm is constantly screaming at me to wake up. As I’m about to hit the snooze button so that I can get an extra 15 minutes of sleep, I realise that I have a patient booked at 9am this morning. I can remember from the appointment book that it is an extraction case, and thus I need to get into the clinic early and do all of the preparation for a complex procedure. So, I muster all of my mental energy to wake up from my comfy bed and brush my teeth and ALSO floss. Yes, we dentists do as we preach. I brush my teeth for about 2 minutes and have a shower. I am excited to get my day started and help my patients get their picture perfect smiles.

In a profession such as dentistry, personal hygiene and a good smile cannot be compromised as we deal very closely with patients every minute of our day.

And as we all know, first impressions count, and that’s a vitally important concept when a new patient walks through your door. Every day brings a new adventure as a dentist because each patient is a new chance to improve someone else’s life, and it is fun getting to meet so many new people.

It is ten past eight as I rush out the door and drive to work. The 36-minute drive has become routine over the past three years. The drive, though long, seems a lot shorter as I think about the cases I have lined up for the day. With extractions, the goal is to ensure that I don’t have to perform surgery due to complications. Thoughts of ensuring that the extraction case goes well, and that I do not have to surgically remove any fragmented roots incessantly plague my worried mind. Now, if a root was to break during the extraction, your stress level just shoots up. You start to sweat, your forearms are hurting, you frustratingly wonder why this tooth is not coming out and you ask the assistant to swiftly get you another instrument hoping that it will magically save you. Also, a complication would delay things and my next patients will have to wait.

Who likes waiting at the dentist anyway?

Then I think about the 1 hour crown insertion case at 2pm after lunch and I hope that the colour and contours of the margin of the crown is to the patient’s satisfaction. These are the moments that make you question why you chose dentistry as a career. Every job has its stressors, and dealing with people will always be a challenge, but I love the precision of a job well done. Seeing a patient’s new smile warms my heart, and all my worries drift away.

Essentially, the patient needs to walk out of my surgery room happy about their new crown. If the patient is not happy (and aesthetics, obviously is a very subjective issue), then I am not happy and hence I start looking for someone to blame. But who is to blame? The patient can only point the finger at me, but I know there are various reasons why that crown did not work out as planned. But, you learn to cop it on the chin anyway. That is the time where proper management of the patient is required.

I arrive to work and do a quick scan of the remaining cases I have booked in for that day.

Cleanings, cleanings, fillings, check-up, review and a treatment plan consult. That’s all routine. It is the bread and butter of dentistry and makes up the bulk of our day. Some dentists find doing cleanings laborious and boring, but that is my favourite part of the day. I enjoy removing the hardened plaque (known as calculus) off the patient’s teeth as it crumbles away when you angle the dental cleaning instrument (a scaler) at the correct angle. Agh, the small satisfaction we get as dentists haha.

Oh, and let’s not forget about our amazing patients who have driven, caught public transport or were assisted to come see you. Yes, they have come far and wide just to see you. That makes you feel special, doesn’t it? And you really do love to have a chat with them. As you gain experience, you also get to learn a new language. It becomes very easy to decipher the garbled sound of patients talking while getting a cleaning. Sometimes, we talk about the weather, travel, sport, families, and pets and other times it is about lending an ear for them to share their most confronting issues. You play every role as a dentist. You are there to be the doctor who diagnoses, the friend who listens and cares, the psychologist who understands, the mechanic who fixes, the artist who recreates and designs, the manager who leads…

The day is also made a lot better by the team around you.

Your nurses play an integral role in the structure of the surgery especially in the area of patient management. Also, their stories are always filled with laughter and hilarious moments as they recall their Saturday nights dancing around to the tunes of ‘YMCA’ at the city club or how their child ate five picnic bars and did not want to attend swimming lessons after that.

Luckily, the day was smooth sailing. The tooth came out quickly and the patient was happy with the crown. These are the days in which you really do love your job and you walk out of the surgery room right on time at 5:30 with a beaming smile on your face. Oral health greatly affects a person’s health—both physically and emotionally. A job well done lets me know that one more person is pain free and feeling more confident.

Then you think, dentistry is so fun and easy.

However, it is very precarious at times and thus a simple slip up at any moment can change your mood for the next month. If something doesn’t go your way, that night and for nights on end you will think about it during your sleep. You will rationalise your decision, you will overanalyse it and try to convince yourself that it wasn’t your fault and that there were a plethora of reasons why the case did not turn out the way it should have.

Whether it was a good or shocking day, finding time to relax after work is important. Some dentists like to hit the gym, go to a restaurant, read a novel, and be around family and friends. I like to unwind by dining out at a restaurant. Usually, it’s a restaurant I haven’t been to as I enjoy experiencing new cultural foods, the decor and environment of my new found place. During the summer months, a trip to the beach is always on the cards to catch the orange glaze of sunset at around 8pm at South Melbourne beach. It’s those moments that you feel present spiritually and frees you up from the stresses of work. Then you go home and do it all over again the next day. As much as there are moments of panic and stress, there are equally rewarding moments and that’s the beauty of my profession.”

More dentistry articles on My Health Career:

Images: grendelkhan – flickr, Valery Kenski – flickr, Snipergirl – flickr


One reply to “A day in the life of a dentist – by Viet Nguyen”

  1. An enjoyable read. Keep up the good blogging for the next 50nyears of your professional life.Being well and truly retired after a combined 56 years(includes tge 5 years spent learning this wonderful profession),Istill enjoybreading the ADJ and the stste and federal newsletters.My love for dentistry commenced when Iwas 13 years old.No looking back,so if my time came again I would become a dentist again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *