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Bijal Shah, 2nd Year Dental Student

Bijal Shah spoke to the ADA while enrolled as a second-year dental student at Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine in Alton, Illinois.

7:00 a.m. I wake up in time for my 8:00 a.m. class. Unless I know there is a quiz or an exam and I want a last-minute review of my notes—then I’ve been known to get up as early as 6:00 a.m. (ugh!)

8:00 a.m. Every day of the week is different. On Friday mornings we study local anesthesia—the different options, and how to choose what works best for a particular situation.

9:00 a.m. My second class of the day is perio (periodontology) which is basically teeth and everything around them, like gums. We go over periodontal disease, and also prevention. When most folks think about visiting the dentist, they are thinking about the topics we cover in perio class!

11:00 a.m. My third class on Fridays is systemic pathology. We’ll focus on a single system in the body, like the digestive system or respiratory, and the ways that oral health is connected to those systems. I chose dentistry because I’m interested in health care, and this class is a reminder that dentists care about patients, not just mouths!

Noon Lunch hour! Alton is a small town so it’s easy to run home for lunch, but it’s more likely that I’ll go to the lab to continue whatever project I’m working on. The lab work is all so new— the first day they gave each of us a huge box with all these tools and it was a little intimidating. I’m more comfortable now.

The great thing about lab work is that it takes all the material that we’ve been reading about and puts it into action—I like being able to see results. The rough thing about lab work is the learning curve. It might take me five times to try something that someone else gets right away. Then the next project could be the opposite.

1:00 to 5:00 p.m. On Friday afternoons, we have local anesthesia lab. Basically it means that when someone needs to get numbed up, we do the injections. I won’t be doing any procedures until the summer between my second and third year, but I’m getting pretty good at giving the shots!

5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The labs at my school stay open until 10 p.m., so I might go back there if I’m still in the middle of a project. Otherwise, I go back home to study.

There’s no class on the weekends, but I still have so much to do. It seems like my friends who aren’t in dental school have a lot more free time than I do. I miss out on a lot right now—like I couldn’t go to a friend’s bachelorette party because it was on a bad weekend and I couldn’t take that much time away.

Everyone says that the second year is the hardest, and so far I agree! I got into dentistry because I want a career in healthcare with a work life balance. And I think that will be true—after I’m done with dental school!