The first day of Cariology lab was a blur, 94 confused D1s ran back and forth between the wet lab and our stations, punching rubber dams and grabbing Vaseline. Harried cries for floss rang out across the basement. While I had seen a rubber dam placed while shadowing during a root canal, the process seemed quick and seamless. I did not realize the skill that it takes to place one until lab.
Some of us were successful in placing our rubber dams on our mannequin’s teeth at the onset of class, while others (like me) had a rockier start. It took me seven attempts to place the dam correctly. Each time I managed to master one aspect, like placing a clamp, another part would fall to the wayside, like the dam ripping when I pulled it over a molar (three times). When I finally placed a perfect dam, I felt invincible. Upon leaving lab that day, I just assumed this was something we would do in pre-clinic.
However, two days later while assisting in pre-clinic, I assisted in placing a rubber dam. That moment, the connection between pre-clinic and clinic clicked for me. The projects we do are not just about getting sign-offs for completion but making us competent practitioners. It was amazing try something that I had only practiced on a plastic mannequin with plastic teeth on a patient, and to do it well.
My first year of dental school has had many highs and lows and there have been days when I had no idea what I was doing nor why I was doing it. Yet, those moments make the ones when I succeed even sweeter. For instance, when we started learning how to prepare teeth last semester, it seemed impossible to even hold a drill without it jumping, let alone follow an outline. Nonetheless, this semester in Cariology, my ability to prepare teeth has exceeded just making sure the burr does not jump, I can even prepare teeth without direct vision! This year has taught me that whenever something seems hard, with determination, I can complete it. Thus, though dental school can be challenging, there will always be small victories which make it all worth the growing pains.