In this article we will explore how to become a dental nurse in the UK.

According to the International Dental Federation, there are approximately 27,000 dental nurses currently working in the United Kingdom. That may seem like a lot, but there’s actually a shortage of dental nurses in the UK at the moment. Due to this shortage, many dental practices train and hire nurses from other countries.

If you feel you would be an excellent asset to this profession and you’re prepared to train and study, you can help resolve the dental nursing shortage issue and gain a worthy and interesting career with good prospects. In the following helpful information, you’ll find out what the job entails and how you can become a dental nurse.

What is a dental nurse?

A dental nurse assists a dentist or an oral hygiene professional in a variety of procedures and tasks. If you choose to become a dental nurse, you’ll also be making sure patients are looked after. To perform this role successfully, you’ll have to be calm, friendly, reassuring and efficient.

You could work for a private dental practice or for the NHS in a hospital or clinic. Some dental nurses work in the community as well. This means you would travel across the local community to meet patients in their homes. You could work as a dental nurse in the armed forces too.

Dental nurses have the opportunity of working either full-time or part-time. If you work in a dental clinic, you’ll usually work during the opening hours of the surgery. Typically, this is from nine a.m. to five p.m. However, other private surgeries and emergency clinics are open twenty-four hours a day, so the hours are dependent on the practice you work for.

What does a dental nurse do?

As a dental nurse, you will be an important part of the dental team. As well as providing patients with the support and assistance they need during their visit to a dental clinic or hospital, you will help with a broad range of dental procedures. Tasks can include preparing materials required for performing procedures, making sure the equipment and instruments are ready, and sterilising and cleaning the dentist’s used instruments.

Dental Nurse Job Description

As well as performing tasks like those outlined above, a dental nurse can be responsible for a number of other duties. The specific tasks that are undertaken depend on the specific practice you work for. Typically, the role of a dental nurse includes:

  • Passing instruments to a dentist or hygienist during procedures.
  • Suctioning water and saliva from the mouth of a patient during treatment.
  • Advising patients about oral hygiene.
  • Booking appointments for patients.
  • Performing other administrative tasks, such as stock control, recording information about patients’ oral health and collecting payments.
  • Processing and filing radiographs and lab requests.
  • Calculating the costs of individual treatments and explaining the costs to patients.
  • Building friendly relationships with patients.
  • Cleaning and tidying the dental clinic.

Key Skills of a Dental Nurse

A great starting point for becoming a dental nurse is to take an online dental nurse course, because this will give you an insight into the industry and the skills required.

You will need both practical skills and interpersonal skills to become a dental nurse.

The latter involves being able to work with all types of patients, including children and difficult patients. You need to be able to offer patients reassurance and put nervous patients at ease. Patients often find it easier to talk to dental nurses about their concerns than with dentists and hygienists.

By allowing patients to confide in you, it not only helps the patients, it also helps you to gain important information that the dentist or hygienist needs to be aware of. Basically, a dental nurse helps to improve the communication between a dentist and a patient.

The role of a dental nurse can often be stressful, so you’ll need to be able to cope with changes of plan without any notice and work quickly and calmly. You’ll have to be adaptable and be able to easily work as part of a professional team. You also need to be highly organised to ensure all tasks are completed smoothly. Other key skills of a dental nurse include:

  • Having the ability to multitask.
  • Having the ability to work well under pressure.
  • Having good co-ordination and dexterity.
  • Having a methodical approach to the work.
  • Being calm and confident.
  • Being friendly and sensitive.
  • Having excellent computer literacy skills.
  • Having excellent communication skills.

Useful Work Experience

Generally, dental practices require you to have between one and two years of clinical experience in the role before you can become a qualified dental nurse. Most people achieve this by beginning as a trainee dental nurse while working towards a formal qualification. This means you learn both hands-on experience and academic skills to prepare you for your future career.

By enrolling with a full-time education course, you will usually be placed in either a private dental surgery or at an NHS clinic to gain the experience you need. Additionally, if you have previously worked in a customer service role or in a caring or nursing role, it will be advantageous.

Average Salaries

How much you can earn as a dental nurse is dependent on the type of practice you work for, its location and the amount of experience you have. In the UK, a dental nurse’s salary can range from £17,000 to £29,000 per year. Most dental nurses in the UK earn approximately £18,000 per year. If you want to earn a salary from the higher end of the pay scale, you’ll typically need to take on extended duties in specialist areas, such as radiography, cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics. The more experienced you are and the more specialist knowledge you have, the more you can earn.

Qualifications for a Dental Nurse

There are two options available to you for qualifying as a dental nurse. Firstly, you can begin working as a trainee without needing to hold industry-related formal qualifications. However, many employers prefer you to have English, Maths and Biology GCSE grades of A to C or one to three; or qualifications and training you obtained in the armed forces.

If you start in a trainee position, you’ll be required to work towards a recognised qualification while you engage with on-the-job-training. Trainees receive a starter salary that is lower than the salary of qualified dental nurses. Once you gain a certificate, your salary will increase accordingly.

The second way to become a dental nurse is to study at an education institute that includes a practical work placement. Whichever method you select, you must attain a qualification from the General Dental Council before you can work as a qualified dental nurse. This is mandatory for any dental nurse working in the UK. To successfully complete your course to earn a recognised qualification, you’ll have to complete two years of practical experience in a dental surgery and pass an examination.

To begin a formal qualification course, you will normally need to have GCSE grades of A to C or one to three in English, Maths and Science. You can enrol with one of several courses to meet General Dental Council requirements and earn a recognised qualification. These qualifications are:

  • A National Certificate in Dental Nursing qualification that’s awarded by the National Examination Board for Dental Nurses.
  • A Certificate of Proficiency in Dental Nursing qualification that’s awarded by an institution recognised by the Association of Dental Hospitals.
  • A Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing qualification that’s awarded by a university.
  • An NVQ or SVQ qualification in Oral Healthcare: Dental Nursing Level Three.

Career Progression

Once you’ve gained your dental nursing qualification and have worked in the sector for several years, you can undertake further training to progress in your career. Post-qualification certificates are available in areas such as radiography, oral health education and conscious sedation. You could also train to become a dental therapist, a dental hygienist or an orthodontic therapist.

Furthermore, you can progress to senior dental nursing positions in fields like oral surgery and implants. Working in management roles is another option available to you. For instance, you could progress in your career to become a practice manager or a dental nurse team leader. Another available option is to work as a trainer to teach and assess new dental nursing trainees.

If you have a talent for sales, there’s also the opportunity to work on commission as a dental sales representative. In this role, you would be selling dental equipment and procedures to dental practices.

In Conclusion

If you want to become a dental nurse, you’ll need to have the key skills and personality traits required for the job. This includes being organised, working in a practical and administrative capacity, and having great interpersonal skills to communicate with patients and dentists. If you believe you would be excellent in learning all the required skills, you can earn a qualification to become a dental nurse while working in a dental practice to get the experience you need.

Once you have a recognised qualification under your belt, you can get full-time work and start earning around £18,000 per year. You can then progress to a higher wage after completing several years of experience or you can train in other areas to progress further in your career.

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