With oral hygiene more important now than ever before, the dental industry is booming. According to market research*, the public’s demand for whiter teeth and fresher breath is on the rise, and it’s this booming call that is music to the ears of those hoping to become dental nurses.
Of course, becoming a dental nurse isn’t something that happens overnight. So, you might ask, what are the roles and responsibilities of a dental nurse? What skills and qualifications do I need? Basically, how do I become a dental nurse?
The dental nurse role
The dental nurse role is wide ranging and extends far beyond simply assisting dentists carry out routine check-ups.
An important aspect of the dental nurse role is to work closely with dentists and support them in all aspects of patient care. This can include duties such as preparing instruments, mixing materials, sterilising equipment, taking detailed notes and stock control.
In addition to assisting in patient care, the dental nurse role can extend outside of the surgery. As a dental nurse you may be tasked with reception work which may include making appointments, taking payments and handling paperwork.
What skills does a dental nurse need?
As with any healthcare role, you must show a willingness to learn and an aptitude for dental nursing. In other words, you need to possess a genuine interest in the science behind dentistry.
Due to the diverse nature of the dental nurse role, those eager to enter the profession must possess a multitude of skills. Such skills include an ability to work well as part of a team and not buckle under pressure, excellent communication skills, an ability to multitask and confidence to work in a calm and collected manner.
Being a good dental nurse also requires a number of personal qualities too. For instance, you need to be sympathetic, empathetic and a good listener, as many people are nervous about visiting the dentist and need constant reassurance. As such, an ability to work well with children and difficult patients is key.
In addition, you must possess attributes that will help you tackle the administrative side of the dental nurse role. Computer literacy and an ability to record detailed notes for patients’ records are critical.
Also bear in mind that you'll need to maintain a decent level of physical fitness, as much of your day will be spent on your feet. And you'll need to be neat, conscientious and happy to work in a confined space for long periods of time.
What qualifications do you need to become a dental nurse?
While academic qualifications aren’t usually needed to start work as a trainee dental nurse, you will need to study for a course in dental nursing should you want to progress. General Dental Council-approved courses are available on a full-time and part-time basis.
Full-time courses may require evidence of A-level or AS-level study. Part-time courses may ask for a minimum number of GCSEs, usually ranging from A to C in English language, maths or science. It is important to check with the course provider for details of necessary qualifications or work experience requirements, as these may vary.
If you choose to start work immediately as a trainee dental nurse, you will require on-the-job training while you work towards your certification.
Dental nurse training
Dental nurses are required to register with the General Dental Council (GDC). This can only be done once you have successfully completed a course approved by the GDC. The training courses available include:
- Foundation Degree in Dental Nursing
- Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing
- National Diploma in Dental Nursing (awarded by the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses)
- QCF Level 3 Diploma in Dental Nursing
- NVQ Level 3 in Dental Nursing
If you wish to study as a trainee dental nurse, you can opt for either the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses (NEBDN) National Diploma in Dental Nursing, the Dental Nursing NVQ Level 3, or the Diploma in Dental Nursing.
You can study for these courses on a part-time basis at some dental hospitals, further education colleges and external training providers.
If you prefer the full-time approach, you can study a GDC-approved course, which can be accessed through a number of universities, including the University of Northampton and the University of Portsmouth.
There are no right or wrong answer when it comes to training as a dental nurse. The method by which you train will depend on how quickly you want to qualify or your financial constraints. Once you have established these parameters, you can decide which method is best for you.
Once you have successfully completed an approved qualification you will need to register with the GDC, a governing body which regulates dentists and dental care professionals. You can then begin working in hospitals, private clinics or general practices.
Once you have several years of experience under your belt, you can start mapping out your career path. The more experience you have as a dental nurse the easier it is for you to progress into different roles.
Locum work is one of the options you can consider as a dental nurse. This route offers a number of advantages such as flexibility to work shifts that suit your lifestyle, higher rates of pay and the opportunity to learn different techniques in a range of settings.
You might want to increase your knowledge of dental science further, in which case professions such as dental hygienist, dental therapist or orthodontic therapist (professions which are often referred to as oral health practitioners) are routes to consider.
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*Research carried out by Technavio.