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Dental nurses provide assistance to dentists, and other dental care professionals, throughout a patient’s visit. Their main duties include:
- tidying and generally preparing the surgery
- sterilising instruments
- passing relevant instruments to the dentist, therapist or hygienist
- removing water and saliva from the patient’s mouth during treatment
- preparing materials, for example, to make fillings
- making sure the patient is relaxed and comfortable at all times.
Suitably trained and qualified dental nurses may be involved in monitoring patients' welfare when the dentist is using general anaesthesia during treatment.
Dental nurses work to maintain sterile conditions within the surgery and make sure health and safety policy is adhered to. They help the dentist record information about each patient and carry out stock control.
In general practice, dental nurses may work on reception at particularly busy times. This can involve dealing with the administration of the practice, booking appointments, taking payment for treatment, greeting and reassuring patients.
Hours and Environment
As a dental nurse you will generally work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. You may be expected to work outside of these hours, however, as some surgeries open during the evening to accommodate patients' needs. Part-time work is sometimes available.
If you are working in the community dental service, a driving licence will be useful as some travel between centres is likely.
Dental surgeries are clean, sterile and well-lit. As a dental nurse you will wear a uniform and surgical gloves for protection. Safety glasses and a mask are also used to reduce the risk of cross-infection.
You will spend much of your time standing, which can be tiring.
Skills and Interests
To be a dental nurse you should:
- have a genuine interest in the welfare of your patients
- have a high level of manual dexterity and good eyesight
- be friendly and sympathetic with a calm, confident and reassuring manner
- be able to relate well to a wide range of people including children and people with special needs
- be able to work well in a team
- have a positive and flexible approach to work
- have good organisational skills to manage the administrative aspects of the job.
You will usually begin working in this area as a trainee dental nurse in a general dental practice. There may also be opportunities to start as a trainee within a dental hospital or the community dental service. As a trainee you will learn on the job, and study part-time for an approved vocational qualification and entry onto the General Dental Council (GDC) register; check the Training section for details.
Another way you can get into dental nursing is to study full-time for a GDC approved qualification with a college, university or dental hospital. Courses combine theory with practical work; check the Training section for details.
You do not need any specific academic qualifications to begin working as a trainee dental nurse. However, some employers and course providers offering GDC approved qualifications will prefer you to have four GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) including English, and a science related subject. Your skills and general suitability for the work are also important.
Please check with course providers for exact entry requirements.
You may be able to get into this job through an apprenticeship scheme. Funding for apprenticeships is available for 16-24 year olds and some over-25s. To find out more, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk. For information about apprenticeships in other parts of the UK, see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Since the end of July 2006, dental nurses have been able to join the General Dental Council (GDC) register. By July 2008, it will be essential for all practising dental nurses in the UK to be on the GDC register.
To be considered a qualified dental nurse, with access onto the register, you need to achieve one of the following:
- the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses (NEBDN) National Certificate examination, plus 24 months experience
- the S/NVQ Level 3 in Oral Healthcare: Dental Nursing
- a Certificate of Proficiency in Dental Nursing awarded by a recognised Dental Hospital
- the Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing offered by the School of Professionals Complementary to Dentistry, at the University of Portsmouth.
GDC approved dental nurse training courses involve both practical and theoretical work. The areas you will study include:
- anatomy and physiology
- dentistry techniques such as anaesthesia and sedation, restorative dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery and dental radiography
- control of infection including sterilisation, prevention of cross infection and storage of drugs
- caring for patients, maintaining records and mixing materials for fillings.
The GDC have created a two-year 'transitional period' from July 2006 to July 2008, where they will grant membership and registration to individuals who do not have one of the approved qualifications listed above. Transitional arrangements will apply in certain circumstances, for example, where you are:
- a dental nurse with qualifications which are no longer awarded (and therefore not listed above; the GDC hold a list)
- a dental nurse with four or more years' experience within the last eight years, but you lack a relevant qualification.
If you have between two and four years experience, the GDC are developing routes which will allow you to 'top up' your experience with further training or assessment.
Dental nurses with qualifications obtained overseas, as well as those who trained in the Armed Forces, may also be eligible to register. For more details regarding registration and acceptable qualifications, check the GDC website in Further Information.
As a dental nurse you can work in general dental practice, in hospitals, with the community dental service, in industry, and with universities. You can also train as a dental nurse in the Armed Forces.
As a qualified dental nurse you can expand your knowledge and capabilities by studying for NEBDN post-qualification certificates. These are available in a number of specialist areas, including:
- Oral Health Education
- Dental Sedation Nursing
- Dental Anaesthetic Nursing
- Special Care Dental Nursing
- Orthodontic Nursing.
You must be on the Voluntary National Register of Dental Nurses in order to sit the NEBDN's post-qualification examinations.
Experience as a dental nurse is a great preparation for occupations such as Dental Hygienist and Dental Therapist; please check the relevant job profiles for more information.
As a dental nurse you may be able to progress into roles such as dental nurse team manager, team leader, or dental practice manager.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
The starting salary for dental nurses can be around £14,000.
Experienced and qualified dental nurses can expect to earn between £16,500 and £19,750.
Dental nurse team leaders and dental nurse specialists can earn between £19,000 and £25,000.
Dental nurse team managers and dental nurse tutors can earn up to around £31,000.
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The information contained in our Career Profiles Database was correct at time of publishing, but since publication certain details may have changed so please use this section as a research tool and in some cases further research may be required.
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