Building manual dexterity skills

A dentist must have superior manual dexterity skills. The American Dental Education Association provides the following explanation of manual dexterity skills: “[m]anual dexterity is the ability to use your hands in a skillful, coordinated way to grasp and manipulate objects and demonstrate small, precise movements.” Stop for a moment and consider the size of the average person’s mouth. In order to perform dental procedures, a dentist must be able to work with precision on an extremely small scale. Dental schools care about manual dexterity skills because dentists must be able to exercise very fine motor control and possess excellent hand-eye coordination.

It is important to fine tune your manual dexterity skills before applying to dental school. Dental school admissions committees expect that you will have worked to develop these skills before you apply to dental school. When you apply to dental school, you must be able to do more than say, “I’m good with my hands.” You must be able to demonstrate to an admissions committee that you have developed the necessary manual dexterity skills.

There is another good reason to participate in these activities prior to applying to dental school. If you find that you do not enjoy working with your hands, it may be an indication that you could find dental school a frustrating experience. Participating in activities to develop your manual dexterity skills will allow you to test out your abilities and determine if you derive satisfaction from the kinds of activities that will consume a large portion of your time as a practicing dentist. Finding this out before you begin dental school is a wise idea.

Activities that are particularly helpful in building these skills can include:

  • Learning a musical instrument that requires extensive hand coordination (e.g. piano, violin)
  • Woodcarving
  • Creating 3-D artwork through jewelry-making, sculpting or ceramics
  • Soap carving
  • Sewing/needlepoint
  • Cross-stitching
  • Crocheting
  • Knitting
  • Learning to tie fishing knots
  • Drawing
  • Painting

(Adapted from the American Dental Education Association)