What it takes to become a dentist?
It is a norm for students who are interested in a career in healthcare to aspire to become a Medical Doctor. Although dentistry comes close as other potential careers within the healthcare service, there is currently a lack of information about dentistry as a profession in Malaysia. Therefore, the following information hopefully, will enlighten prospective students, parents and career counsellors who are interested in getting to know more about dentistry as a career.
The Dentist’s job
In the clinic, dentists see patients with various problems, ranging from no problem (i.e. for routine dental check up) to severe toothache. In essence, there is a wide range in the scope of their job. A study from this centre has shown that patients with toothache do seek medical and pharmaceutical treatment to relieve their problem, but at the end of the day, the dentists are still the most important person to relieve patient’s toothache.
Dentists take care of the general welfare of patients’ oral health. Routine dental work includes caring for the health of the gums and bones supporting the teeth by cleaning the teeth, removing decay and filling the cavities to restore the teeth, be it in children or adults. Restoring teeth may range from simple tooth coloured filling materials to full coverage such as using crowns to give improved aesthetics depending on the type of cases. Some teeth may need root canal treatment before final restoration is done. The dentists may undertake examinations using radiographs (x-rays) if necessary. They may be able to straighten teeth in simple cases using removable appliances, besides repairing fractured teeth. They may also perform treatment on gums and supporting bones to control gum diseases from getting worse. Of course, as everybody knows, the dentists extract teeth and then make models and measurements to make dentures or bridges to replace the missing teeth. People used to be afraid of dentists but with modern technology and good management skills, they are able to reduce the pain and anxiety for treatment to help patients improve their oral health and aesthetics to help them achieve a happy smile. It is a self satisfying job as dentists are able to help motivate patients to improve their oral health by educating them about diet, brushing, flossing, quitting smoking and other aspects of dental care. Since they also routinely examine patients holistically within the mouth, there are times when they may be the first person to identify abnormality such as potentially cancerous lesions not usually noticed by these patients, thus immediately referring them for specialist management and saving their lives.
The dentists rely on a variety of dental materials, equipment, including x-ray machines, drills, and instruments such as mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels to get their job done. The skills of handling these equipments and materials are acquired during their undergraduate training. Dentists are artists as well as scientists. In order to brighten one tooth or realign an entire jaw, the dentists use their artist's aesthetic sense to help their patients look their best. They improve patients' appearance by using a wide variety of cosmetic dental procedures. In other word, one who has good manual dexterity will be very suitable for this career.
Most people may think that the dentists only look after teeth and mouths. In actual fact, the dentists also look after their patients’ general well being. Work is always interesting as they always interact with people of all ages, cultures and personalities. For example, when dealing with an anxious child, a good dentist uses different approach of communication skill to manage this situation. They educate their patients, as well as the general public, on how to achieve optimum oral health and prevent oral disease, and in turn motivating them to keep a healty lifestyle.
If you have a strong urge to provide services to those in need, like the sick, disabled or, poor individuals, you can provide such services by working in government hospitals. Dentist are mostly conscientious, civic-minded individuals and it is certainly a noble job, worth considering.
You will need to complete a five-year degree programme at the University of Malaya, or any one of the public or private dental schools in Malaysia. Upon completion of your training you will be awarded a BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) from the University of Malaya.
Studies begin with classroom instruction and laboratory work in basic sciences, including some related medical subjects such as anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, physiology, pathology. Dental subjects include dental anatomy and dental materials. The current programme in the University of Malaya is an integrated one, meaning that students learn about the clinical implications of these basic science subjects. The students will be required to undergo stimulation training in the Operative Technique Laboratory in Year 2 before they are allowed to treat patients in the clinical years, which start in the 3rd year of the programme. They treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of lecturers.
In clinical training, students are trained to acquire good diagnostic ability and manual skills. They should have good visual memory, excellent judgement of space and shape, a high degree of manual dexterity, and scientific ability. Good common sense, self-discipline, and communication skills are helpful for success in managing patients in the clinics.
Currently freshly graduated dentists must serve a “compulsory service” for three (3) years with the Ministry of Health. Work loads include general dentistry, dental public health and training at a hospital whereby you will go on-call to attend to emergencies like treating patients with post-extraction bleeding, or those sustaining dentoalveolar fractures, wound/cut to the oral cavity and its surrounding structures and jaw fractures. Your initial income will be within the bracket of RM 2800.
What can you do after obtaining a BDS?
There are many areas that a young dentist can explore after obtaining a basic degree (BDS). Before doing so, do note that the dental profession is a highly stressful and demanding career. Dentists need to balance their personal and professional lives to meet their individual needs and desires. For those who plan to take their career a step further, they can opt to train further to become dental specialist. One can specialized in different areas such as orthodontics, which involve straightening teeth and improving oral function, or oral and maxillofacial surgery which involve performing surgery to treat lesions like cysts, tumours and oral cancers in the oral cavity. Other areas of specialization include periodontology, endodontology, restorative dentistry, prosthodontics (fixed and removable), children’s dentistry, oral medicine, oral pathology, oral radiology, forensic dentistry, and dental public health (see Career Opportunity).
In addition, those who like to be involved in teaching and research can become academicians in universities. Most dentists in the public service work in the Ministry of Health, but there are also those who work in the Ministry of Defence. Some dentists in the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defence become administrators and policy makers for the government. Dentistry also allows you to be your own boss, when one decides to set up his own private practice.
Lastly, some dentists venture out into business, administration and politics. One dentist even became our Vice Chancellor (Dato’ Professor Dr. Hashim b. Yaacob), and a prominent alumnus of the University of Malaya is an Angkasawan.
One of the author with Angkasawan Malaysia, Dr. Faiz Khaled
Cost of a dental programme
A major concern of any potential dental student's family is cost. It costs between RM 75,000 to RM 500,000 to study dentistry, depending whether one is to do so in a public institution or private institution. Though dental education may be expensive, it is within the reach of people from all economic backgrounds if the study is undertaken in a public university like the University of Malaya.
Financial assistance in the form of loans and scholarships are readily available from a variety of sources. One excellent source is the Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam scholarship. Others include a scholarship from the Ministry of Defence and various foundations like the Kuok Foundation. Besides, study loans are readily offered by various bodies, like Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional (PTPTN), foundations like the Malaysian Dental Association Foundation and local banking institution. Since loans are available, the financial support required from parents may not amount to more than helping to cover the cost of living.
Welcome to the University of Malaya to all aspiring applicants.
For all parents, talk to your son or daughter about a dental career. By helping him or her decide, you'll provide the foundation for a future of satisfaction and success. We look forward to you becoming part of this prestigious profession.
Last Update: November 20, 2014