Stab Lab 101

Stab lab is a dental school rite of passage, in which you and a partner give each other local anesthetic injections. Fun stuff (ha)! 😅 Usually, stab lab occurs during the end of your D2 year, before entering clinic.

Let me tell you, I was NERVOUS, NERVOUS, NERVOUS! My stab lab session was immediately after lunch, so I spent my entire lunch break freaking out! I even tried brainstorming excuses that I could use to get out of it! But, like most things, the anticipation was way worse than the actual experience. Now, I give injections daily with little effort.

Here are my top 5 tips for surviving stab lab!

1. Drink, Eat, Breath

This sounds so simplistic. It may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve watched many classmates faint throughout my dental school career! Syncope is the fancy term for fainting. It can be caused by dehydration, hunger, stress, anxiety, and fear. While it is completely natural to be anxious about stab lab, be sure to stay well hydrated and have a substantive meal beforehand! I always kept a sugary snack in my bag (see my post, What’s in my Bag)!

2. Partner Selection

If possible, select a partner you trust. Having my friend, Arielle, as a partner made the experience much more pleasant! I was completely comfortable admitting to her that I was nervous. Of course, she was 100% supportive, encouraging and affirming…just what I needed to hear! She also let me go first, so I could quickly resolve any fears! 

If you have a trusted partner, it may be fun (rather than embarrassing) to try these techniques to reduce shaking during injections:

3. Cotton Tip Applicator

This tip is CRITICAL! Stab lab is very structured. You will work with a faculty member or upperclassman. They will guide you through the entire process. First, do NOT retract with your finger (this is a bad habit I picked up from day one). This can place you at risk of a needle stick exposure with a jumpy patient. Start creating good habits during stab lab; retract with a mouth mirror. Next, I recommend reviewing landmarks in your partner’s mouth with the supervising faculty/upperclassman. Then, point out the injection site with a cotton tip applicator. Finally, have the faculty member/upperclassman confirm that the needle is located at the correct site before injecting.

4. Aspirate

Everyone dreads the possibility of causing a hematoma! To reduce the odds, be sure to aspirate. Aspiration is performed to ensure that the tip of the needle is not located in a blood vessel. To aspirate, pull back on the thumb ring (towards you) and look in the cartridge for blood. If you draw blood, redirect the needle and aspirate again. There should be no blood in the cartridge before injecting. You may also aspirate several times as the anesthetic is deposited.

5. Say Cheese!…Then do it again!

When it’s all over, you will feel so relieved and proud of yourself! Don’t forget to snap a photo to remember this dental school rite of passage. Finally, be sure to continue giving injections to keep your skills fresh! Ask upperclassmen if you can perform injections while observing in clinic or oral surgery!

We survived! Look at those numb smiles! From L to R: Arielle (my partner), Yasmin (our upperclassman supervisor), and I.

What memories do you have of stab lab? What tips do you have for surviving stab lab? Comment below!


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