Dental students, especially undergraduates, face a variety of challenges during their studies, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made this an exceptionally difficult time. In addition to practicing manual skills and gaining theoretical knowledge, dental students are required to see patients in person at a relatively early stage in their studies, which sets dentistry apart from other study programs. Although students are often nervous about seeing their first patients, we hope that after completing their portfolios they will be confident enough to work on their own in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a serious impact on dental appointments: either patients were unwilling to visit the dentist, especially dental school dental students, or institutes were not unwilling to accept patients due to new safety procedures and new protection protocols. This impacted many industries and affected the work of not only undergraduates, but also qualified dentists continuing their education.
Staying at home and isolating themselves from professional interactions, such as dental exhibitions and continuing professional development seminars and conferences, took a toll on the mental health of the younger generation and negatively affected their education.
“Isolation has increased anxiety levels in some dental students”
The UK Office for National Statistics said that about one in six adults (17%) had suffered from some form of depression in the summer of 2021, noting a slight increase since the start of 2021 (21%). According to the data, the rate has doubled since the start of the pandemic (10%). Sadly, data shows that young adults and women were more likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic, with more than one in three (32%) women aged 16 to 29 showing symptoms of depression, compared with 20% of men the same age. This is something that we have also observed in our students.
The isolation has resulted in increased anxiety levels in some dental students. Being able to interact with dental professionals at exhibitions and conferences was once a grounding in reality, but this has not been possible since the start of the pandemic. Hopefully, as we come out of the clutches of COVID-19 and return to some form of normalcy, students can once again have face-to-face professional interactions, which will improve their overall well-being.
Getting out of the pandemic
I also spoke to Dr. Jason Berry, Director of Undergraduate Dental Education at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London, on the additional challenges dental students have faced as a result of COVID-19. He explained that the clinical education of students has been severely curtailed by the pandemic. This led to anxiety as the students weren’t sure if they would qualify on time or if they needed to extend their classes.
Fortunately, additional clinics are now open to fill the gap in clinical experience, and it is expected that all students will qualify on time. Where possible, teaching has been moved to an online platform, which students have fully embraced. This teaching method will henceforth be pursued within the framework of a mixed approach, a mixture of online and face-to-face teaching. As we emerge from the pandemic, each age group will face different issues related to COVID-19, and the requirements and schedules of each of these cohorts will need to be adjusted to fill the education gap. It will be a few years before things stabilize, but until then we need to be positive and focused.