Dentistry in Ballarat

I undertook my work integrated learning (WIL) placement in the regional town of Ballarat, Victoria. The placement involved working as a student dentist for six months, and entailed seeing and treating 4-5 patients a day under the guidance of a supervising dentist. It is astonishing to see how far I have come both professionally and personally in just six months. The skills which I was able to develop as a result of the placement include confidence, effective communication, efficiency, critical thinking and clinical expertise.

A sense of independence and self-confidence was the main goal I hoped to achieve from the placement, so that I would feel competent entering the workforce in 2017. Placement in Ballarat definitely delivered this as it allowed me to work in a fast-paced professional dental environment, similar to that of the real world. Initially, I was supported by my supervisors when diagnosing, treatment planning and performing dental procedures. As my skills developed, my supervisors became confident in my abilities and I was given more responsibility and would be treating patients almost exclusively on my own. This heightened sense of autonomy greatly boosted my confidence and I truly felt like a ‘dentist’ rather than a ‘dental student’ by the end of placement.

This placement allowed me to interact with a diverse range of patients who varied in their age, culture, motivation, financial status, dental problems and treatment required. By meeting different people and personalities, I feel like I now have the ability to confidently converse with any patient. At first, I was slightly hesitant to treat paediatric patients as I had not been exposed to that population group before. Through the help of my supervisors, I learnt behavioural techniques which made treating apprehensive children a lot easier. A particularly memorable experience was when I was treating an anxious and restless eight year old patient for extraction of two decayed deciduous teeth. Whilst delivering local anaesthesia, I utilised guided imagery as a distraction technique to which the patient responded well to. Throughout the procedure, I used relevant analogies, comparing dental instruments to everyday objects, to demystify the procedure and engage the patient in conversation. These techniques helped put the patient at ease and the teeth were able to be extracted without any tantrums or tears from the patient!

This placement has also greatly enhanced my time management skills as I learnt the art of diagnosing, treatment planning, performing procedures, writing clinical notes and setting up the surgery all within a limited period of time. During my six months in Ballarat, I treated over 200 patients. By treating such a large number of patients, I gradually became more and more efficient as I adopted a daily routine. Seeing patients who required urgent care was challenging at first as the task of getting a comprehensive pain history and medical history, examining the patient, formulating diagnoses and treatment plan and performing treatment all within one appointment slot was daunting. However, as I saw more urgent care patients, I was able to incorporate strategies to save time. One such example was giving post-operative instructions to a patient whilst waiting for haemostasis to be achieved after extracting a tooth. Time saving strategies such as this are invaluable and something which I will definitely incorporate into my everyday practice.

When it comes to diagnosing dental disease, placement has taught me to think critically and use a logical approach to arrive at a definitive diagnosis rapidly. This was particularly useful when seeing patients with complex disease presentations. For example, I saw a patient who presented with pain from an upper left molar and lower left molar. The pain also radiated to the temporal region. Upon examination, the patient’s lower third molar (wisdom tooth) was impacted, whilst the upper molar had caries approximating the pulp (nerve). The pain history was inconclusive as the pain was widespread on the left side of the face. Following strategic special testing and the use of selective local anaesthesia the cause of the patient’s symptoms was identified to be the impacted tooth, despite the presentation of obvious gross caries on the upper molar. The patient was informed and appropriate management was performed for immediate relief of symptoms. By having a stepwise approach, it became apparent that complex patients were not as challenging to diagnose as treat as I had initially expected them to be.

Coming to the end of my degree, this placement really allowed me to solidify my clinical skills. It enabled me to perform difficult procedures in a support environment. During this placement, an area that I was particularly proud of developing my skills in was third molar surgery. This was an area that I had not been exposed to before and had only learnt about in lectures and read about in textbooks. I was fortunate enough to get a multitude of cases in Ballarat, which allowed me to put my theory into practice. I performed numerous surgical extractions which greatly boosted my confidence in this area of dentistry and by the end of the placement, I was confident to perform these extractions with minimal supervision. I believe the WIL placement really helped enhance and perfect my clinical skills, and will aid in a seamless transition into the workforce.

I would like to thank the ACEN for supporting me through the scholarship. This placement allowed me to actively contribute to the community and learn a wealth of knowledge at the same time. I feel incredibly fortunate to have received this scholarship, as it allowed me to visit, explore and work in a new town. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from such experienced and caring mentors who made working as a student dentist so enjoyable. This placement has allowed me to become a competent and confident dentist and I look forward to utilising the skills I’ve gained from this placement into everyday practice. This placement was an invaluable experience and one that has definitely helped shape me as a dental practitioner. Ballarat has a special place in my heart, and I will definitely go back to visit one day!