Generally speaking, dentists, unlike many doctors and other healthcare providers, keep regular office hours. Indeed, according to many on the inside, this sense of regularity is one of the perks of the profession, along with the mentally-challenging nature of the job and, of course, the attractive salary.
It's not just the hours that can be routine for a dentist. At least some of the working day is made up of routine procedures, including check-ups. However, for the most part, the work is varied, stimulating and highly rewarding.
So, what might a typical day look like for a qualified and practising dentist? Usually, practices are open during normal office hours, during which time a dentist could see up to 20 patients.
Combining routine work with specialist procedures
Some of the more common routines carried out by a regular dentist include straightforward check-ups to ensure a patient's teeth and gums are in good condition, fillings and extractions. Less common, but also an integral part of the job, are more complex procedures such as root canal treatment. Carrying out X-rays and administering anaesthetic, usually with the help of dental nurses, are a central part of the role, with all dentists fully trained in both of these.
Few dentists, however, stick to routine procedures. From the moment they graduate, dentists are actively encouraged to carry on developing their skills, with both the NHS and often individual practices having structured CPD (continuing professional development) schemes in place. A small part of a typical working day could, then include reading or even writing professional journal articles, undertaking postgraduate studies or benefitting from on-the-job training.
Similarly, many dentists also carry out more specialist work alongside their regular practice commitments. Some work alongside lawyers or the police in legal work, while others can work in prisons. Meanwhile, growing numbers are offering niche services such as hypnotherapy, again with their employers actively encouraging the development of new skills.
Communication, teamwork and even administrative skills are important
Just as important as technical knowhow and medical expertise are excellent communication skills and an ability to deal well with people. Dentists must work alongside their patients in drawing up treatment plans, while the ability to perform well with others is also important as dentists work closely with dental nurses and hygienists and may even have to consult with GPs and surgeons on a regular basis.
One of the main responsibilities of being a dentist is educating patients about the importance of dental care, not least teaching young children the basics and setting them up for a life of good oral health. Since many patients can be nervous, or even terrified of visiting a dental practice, empathy, a sympathetic tone and patience are also very important in this line of work.
Perhaps less obvious, but by no means unimportant, is a good business mind. Most dentists are self-employed practitioners, working in several surgeries and often combining NHS work with private work. The ability to deal with a varied workload, to keep on top of administration and to effectively deal with the financial side of the job, including potentially paying taxes as a self-employed worker, are also regular tasks of a busy dentist, especially for those working in practices where there is no practice manager also in place.
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