Dental Nurse

The Job and What's Involved

Dental nurses work with dentists to care for patients. They help to prepare the surgery, making sure that all the instruments and materials are to hand. It is their responsibility to follow health and safety policy and keep all the equipment and working areas sterile.

When a patient arrives, the dental nurse may show them into the surgery. While the dentist examines and treats the patient, the dental nurse helps by:

  • Recording the dentist's comments about the condition of the patient's mouth.
  • Passing instruments to the dentist.
  • Using a suction device to remove water, saliva and debris from the patient's mouth during treatment.
  • Preparing materials, eg for fillings.
  • Making sure that the patient is comfortable.
  • Tidying the surgery.
  • Sterilising instruments after the patient has left.

In some dental practices, the nurses also work on the reception desk. This can involve:

  • Answering the telephone.
  • Making appointments.
  • Dealing with paperwork.
  • Calculating the cost of treatment and taking cash, cheques and credit cards.
  • Taking deliveries and helping with stock control.

Hours of work vary. Work with a local dentist (a general dental practitioner) usually begins between 8am and 9am and ends between 5pm and 6pm. Working hours may include evenings and Saturday mornings. Dental nurses in hospital dentistry may need to work some nights and weekends. Hours in the Community Dental Service (CDS) are more regular. Part-time work is possible.

Dental surgeries are warm, bright, well lit and clean.

In hospital dentistry, dental nurses may sometimes help dentists in operating theatres. For the Community Dental Service (CDS), they may work in a number of different places including health authority surgeries, mobile clinics, schools, residential homes and patients' own homes.

Dental nurses wear a uniform, usually trousers and a tunic or a dress. They also wear surgical gloves, safety glasses and sometimes a mask when working with patients.

They often need to stand for much of the working day.

Starting salaries for trainee dental nurses range from £8,840 to £14,739 a year.

There are no set salary scales for dental nurses in general dental practices. Salaries are individually negotiated and tend to be higher in London and south-east England.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 30,000 dental nurses working throughout the UK. They are employed by:

  • General dental practices - most dental nurses work in this area.
  • The Community Dental Service, which gives dental treatment to people who cannot attend a general practice, including elderly people, people with physical or mental disabilities and children in schools or with special needs.
  • Hospital dental services.
  • Large companies that provide dental care for employees.
  • The Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

The number of dental nurses has decreased in recent years and there is a real shortage, particularly in south-east England.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, at Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres, in The British Dental Nurses' Journal and on the internet, including www.jobs.nhs.uk.

Education and Training

There are no set qualifications for starting as a trainee dental nurse, but employers, colleges and dental hospitals often ask for some GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), particularly in English and biology, or equivalent qualifications.

From July 2006, dental nurses must be registered with the General Dental Council. To qualify for registration they will need one of the following:

  • The National Examining Board for Dental Nurses' (NEBDN) National Certificate in Dental Nursing.
  • NVQ/SVQ in Oral Healthcare: Dental Nursing Level 3.
  • Certificate of Proficiency in Dental Nursing awarded by a dental hospital that is recognised by the Association of Dental Hospitals.
  • Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing, offered by the University of Portsmouth (applicants need at least one A level/H grade in science subjects, plus four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3)).

It is possible to join the RAF for dental nursing training at 16, while entrants to the Army and the Royal Navy must be at least 17 years old. The Army and RAF do not ask for particular qualifications, although a dental nursing qualification is an advantage for the Army. The Royal Navy asks for at least two GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English language or the NEBDN National Certificate in Dental Nursing or an NVQ/SVQ in Oral Healthcare: Dental Nursing Level 3.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are several ways of training and studying for a qualification that will allow dental nurses to register with the General Dental Council:

  • Joining a general dental practice as a trainee and studying part time for a qualification (this is how most dental nurses begin).
  • Joining a hospital or the CDS as a student dental nurse and studying part time for a qualification.
  • Attending a full-time training course at a local college or dental hospital - courses last one or two years.
  • Studying full time for the Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing at the University of Portsmouth - the course lasts fifteen months.
  • Training as a dental nurse in the armed forces, which includes attending the Defence Dental Agency Training Establishment in Aldershot.

Registered dental nurses are required to keep their skills and knowledge up to date by following a programme of Continuing Professional Development.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dental nurse should:

  • Have good manual dexterity, co-ordination and eyesight.
  • Work quickly and efficiently under pressure.
  • Relate well to a wide range of people, including children and people with special needs.
  • Have a friendly, confident manner.
  • Be sympathetic and understanding to reassure nervous patients and put them at their ease.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Have good organisation skills.
  • Be able to deal with some administrative work.
  • Have some familiarity with ICT, as patient records are increasingly kept on computer.
  • Be in good general health.

Your Long Term Prospects

Qualified dental nurses can also study for certificates in areas such as oral health education, conscious sedation and radiography.

Experienced nurses in general dental practices may help to train and supervise other dental nurses. They could become practice managers. Dental nurses in hospitals and the CDS may specialise or become a team leader or team manager. Promotion is possible in the Army, Royal Navy and RAF.

Dental nurses can take further training to become a dental hygienist or dental therapist. With a teaching qualification they can become a dental nurse tutor in a college or hospital.

There may be some opportunities for working abroad.

Get Further Information

British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN),
PO Box 4, Room 200, Hill House International Business Centre,
Thornton-Cleveleys FY5 4QD
Tel: 01253 338360
Website: www.badn.org.uk

The British Dental Association,
64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS
Tel: 020 7935 0875
Website: www.bda-dentistry.org.uk

The General Dental Council,
37 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 020 7887 3800
Website: www.gdc-uk.org

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 6060 655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk

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