What's it really like?
Deborah Tomlinson, 49 years old, is a Dental Nurse who has been working in the Dental industry since 1977.
Deborah, how did you become a Dental Nurse and what were you doing beforehand?
I started off in a surgery doing a two year practical before going into college for 18 months. It's all changed now, you have to go to college first and then work in a surgery.
What where you doing before your current position as Dental Nurse?
Dentally related things mainly. I was practice manager and from then I had my own agency for a while for dental nurses; I worked for it freelance. Now I'm back in the surgery again.
Can you describe a typical day at work for us?
A typical day is very hard. You have to be so many things all rolled into one. You have to be there to support the patient, be there for sterilisation, for helping with equipment - keeping it up to date. You have to help the dentist as well. So you have to be good with patients on a one to one scenario and try to relax them too. Also, if there's any fainting emergencies we're all trained in first aid. For this you have to do different courses.
What do you like about being a Dental Nurse?
I see different people every day, so no two days are ever the same. You're not tied just to paperwork even though there is quite a lot involved. I like the variety and not sitting in an office 9 - 5. It's not boring, the days goes so quickly because there is so much to be done. And I feel like I'm helping people, that's a big part of it.
Is there anything you don't like about being a Dental Nurse?
No there isn't really. Apart from the obvious - you can have patients that are a bit hard to handle. You can get abusive patients who don't like to be kept waiting. Sometimes it's drug or alcohol related but it depends on the area where you work; every place is different.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about becoming a Dental Nurse?
I think you have to be very tolerant and bear in mind that the patients are nervous. Don't think it's a doddle, that you'll just be there sitting pretty, handing instruments over to the dentist. You have to be prepared to be fast, organised and efficient. You have to be there to hold hands or listen to all their problems if necessary. You're the one that's front line, they confide in you, almost like you're the buffer before the scary dentist comes in.
What are the career development options open to qualified Dental Nurses?
Dental Nurses commonly go on to become practice managers. Within the job there are a lot of areas you can specialise in. If you wanted to go into hospital work or to help an oral surgeon, different dentists have different specialities, such as orthodontists. You can specialise in implants, general dentistry or in other things. Personally, I have done a load of different things; this is my last few years of working before I retire.
Is there any other inside information you would like to share with us?
Be patient with your patients!
Dental Nurses provide assistance to Dentists or other dental professionals during dental procedures and at other times in dealing with patients.
Oral health is a top priority in today's society and healthy teeth and gums are considered to be a basic right. Many diseases begin in the mouth, later leading to infections in other parts of the body. The pain brought about by poorly maintained or damaged teeth can make life unbearable in several treatable scenarios. Dentists and other dental professionals are the first line of defence and a Dental Nurse is a vital part of any dental practice. Dental Nurses must be on hand during tricky dental procedures to assist the dentist with manual tasks and those relating to the comfort of the patient. Outside of dental procedure, Dental Nurses prepare the surgery and are usually the first and last person to see the patient, collating information and setting them at their ease.
There are no set guidelines for a Dental Nurses' salary. Salary is whatever the practice in question decides to pay and so can differ widely, although it is linked to the location of the practice and level of experience. Here are some typical salaries.
- At entry level Dental Nurse's pay starts at the minimum wage, around £14,000 per annum.
- An experienced Dental Nurse can earn £17,000 to £20,000 per annum.
- A senior Dental Nurse may earn up to £26,000 (or more depending on the surgery) per annum.
A Dental Nurse has a variety of tasks to complete both during and outside of dental procedure times. A Dental Nurse's responsibilities include:
- Sterilising dental equipment and making sure the correct equipment is available and in good repair.
- Sterilising the practice surgery and keeping it in order.
- Meeting patients and collating their dental records, case history, x-rays etc.
- Mixing dental fillings and moulds.
- Helping to keep the patient as relaxed and happy as possible.
- Assisting during dental procedures - passing tools, keeping the patient's mouth clear of blood and/or saliva.
- Assisting in the recording of patient data.
- Filing dental practice records.
- Collecting fees and setting appointments.
- Answering the telephone and receiving patients.
To become a Dental Nurse you must complete a course accredited by the General Dental Council (GDC) such as:
- A national certificate in Dental Nursing
- A NVQ level 3 in Dental Nursing.
- A VRQ level 3 in Dental Nursing
- A certificate of higher learning in Dental Nursing.
You can study these courses on a full or part-time basis at dental hospitals or higher education colleges. You will be required to do work experience in a dental surgery as part of your course. No prior qualifications are required to begin a Dental Nursing course but employers will usually expect you to have a few GCSE's such as English and Maths.
A Dental Nurse is a busy job with a lot of responsibility attached to it - both to the patient and to the dentist. The following personal skills or attributes would be useful:
- A great bedside manner. A visit to the dentist can be a nerve-racking experience for many, so a Dental Nurse needs to be both confident and reassuring.
- Good organisational skills are a must with such a variety of tasks to complete.
- Ability to work as part of a team. A Dental Nurse is there primarily to provide support.
- Ability to work under pressure. Dental procedures can be tricky affairs and a Dental Nurse has to be on the ball to see that everything goes smoothly.
- A sympathetic nature is vital as Dental Nurses provide care to a great variety of people including children and those with disabilities or special needs.
Usually a Dental Nurse operates within a Dental Practice, which includes a surgery for procedures, a waiting room, an office for admin and perhaps other rooms reserved for procedures such as X-rays. Alternatively, Dental Nurses may work within hospitals, army clinics, mobile clinics, care homes or patients' own homes in the case of community schemes.
Hours worked by Dental Nurses are typically 8am or 9am to 5pm or 7pm. Emergency clinics stay open later and there are 24 hr dental clinics.
Due to sharp dental instruments, specialised equipment and the risk of infection, there are some dangers in the workplace. Official guidelines must be adhered to in order to minimise these.
A Dental Nurse's job is typically stressful due to the range of tasks and roles they must perform. There is pressure to perform efficiently and always with regard to the patient's emotional well being. Much of the day is spent on one's feet so the job can be physically demanding as well as emotionally. Being a Dental Nurse is not a job for the lazy but would suit individuals motivated by challenge and the chance to really help people where needed.
To become a dental nurse you must have direct experience of working in a dental surgery; you can do this as part of your course. Other useful experience would be anything in a client facing role or working with the general public. Any previous caring or nursing experience would be an advantage.
Dental Nurses are employed by the Army and major hospitals although private practices are by far the greatest employer of Dental Nurses. Click to see a selection of current Dental Nurse vacancies.
There are a range of specialist courses available to Dental Nurses looking to progress in their career. NEBDN (National Examining Board for Dental Nurses) post-registration qualifications include:
- Certificate in Oral Health Education.
- Certificate in Dental Sedation nursing
- Certificate in Special Care Dental Nursing
- Certificate in Orthodontic Nursing
- Certificate in Dental Radiography
Dental Nurses may also move into other dentistry associated roles such as Dental Practice Manager, Head Dental Nurse or Dental Nurse Team Leader. Further qualifications can prepare Dental Nurses to work as Dental Nurse Tutors, Dental Hygienists or Dental Therapists.