Health Professions and Prelaw Center

Manual Dexterity


A dentist must have superior manual dexterity skills. Stop and consider for a moment 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.  A dentist must be able to exercise very fine motor control and possess excellent hand-eye coordination.   If you aspire to a career as a dentist you should engage in deliberate activities through which you can develop manual dexterity skills that are transferable to the practice of dentistry. 

Dental school admissions committees expect that applicants have worked to develop these skills prior to admission. 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 systematically engaged in activities through which 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 or that you are lacking in manual dexterity skills, 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.  Making this determination before you begin dental school (and you are paying dental school tuition) is a smart idea.

Activities that are particularly helpful in building these abilities include playing a musical instrument (piano, guitar, flute), producing three-dimensional artwork (jewelry-making, ceramics, sculpture), or hobbies such as making miniature models. Lab work that requires a steady hand and good hand-eye coordination can also be an excellent way to develop manual dexterity skills. 

You should choose an activity that you will enjoy and participate in it on a consistent basis over an extended period of time, preferably throughout your college years. It is helpful if you can find a way to document the level of skill you have developed for an admissions committee, such as taking courses for college credit, performing in a concert, providing samples of your artwork, or obtaining a letter of recommendation from your teacher in an art or music class, or your supervisor in a lab.