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How to become a dental nurse

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Most people are familiar with the role of a dentist, but what do dental nurses do? If you’re interested in combining nursing and dentistry, and have ambitions of caring for the general public, then a career as a dental nurse could be your calling. 

In this article, we’ll explore how to become a dental nurse, covering everything from dental nurse requirements to how much money you can expect to earn. With our help, you’ll be brought up to speed on the profession, so you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right job for you. 

What is a dental nurse?

The role of a dental nurse is to support the work of a dentist and to make sure that patients get the proper care and attention they need. You’ll be expected to provide assistance to members of the dental team so that they can fulfil their role to the highest level, whilst also comforting patients and making sure they get excellent dental care. 

What do dental nurses do?

You’ll have to wear many hats as a dental nurse. As well as assisting dentists and making sure patients have a positive experience, you’ll also have a range of administrative responsibilities. You’ll need to have fundamental dentistry knowledge and be comfortable in a customer-focused setting.

Some of your day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Providing excellent customer service to patients
  • Setting up the dental surgery and getting the necessary equipment ready
  • Disinfecting the area and any materials or instruments that are needed
  • Making sure the dentist has everything they need for a specific patient
  • Providing assistance to the dentist when required
  • Reassuring patients and comforting them
  • Recording patient information and managing appointments

Other members of your dental team that you may be asked to support include clinical dental technicians/technologists, hygienists, and therapists.

In the UK, you could work at a dental practice, a health centre, or in an NHS/private hospital.

What qualifications do I need to become a dental nurse?

You’ve got two possible routes to becoming a dental nurse, which will determine exactly which dental nurse qualifications you need.

The first option is to study and graduate with a dental nursing degree from a university that’s approved by the General Dental Council (GDC). Course requirements will depend on the university you attend, but generally, you should aim to achieve a minimum of two GCSEs (4/C grade or above) in English language and maths, or a science subject, before getting the A-level grades you need at college.

Another route is to become a trainee dental nurse, so you can get practical experience and training without formal qualifications. Most people will choose this option whilst also working towards completing their dental nursing qualifications in the background. This can give you a real advantage when it comes to applying for jobs.

After gaining a qualification or working as a dental nurse trainee, you’ll need to register with the GDC. Before you do, you’ll also have to pass an exam and complete at least two years of surgery duties. Certifications to consider include: 

  • Foundation Degree in Dental Nursing
  • Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing
  • Level 3 Diploma in Dental Nursing

What skills do I need to become a dental nurse?

Before you embark on your journey to become a dental nurse, it’s worth thinking about the soft skills you’ll need to be successful in your role. Some of the more important skills include:

  • Excellent interpersonal skills (especially when interacting with colleagues and patients)
  • Being trustworthy and reliable (when dealing with confidential patient information)
  • Being caring and empathetic
  • Excellent customer service skills
  • The ability to stay resilient under pressure 
  • Excellent organisation skills 
  • Being a good team player

How long does it take to become a dental nurse?

The time it takes will depend on how quickly you complete your dental nurse qualifications and whether you choose to go down the university route. When you choose to do your practical experience training will also have an impact. 

As a general rule, you can expect it to take five to seven years to become a dental nurse. This factors in all your study and training time. 

What are the typical working hours of a dental nurse?

Most dental nurses will work standard hours, which are likely to be around 37.5 hours a week. Depending on who you work for, you may also have to work some evenings and weekends. 

It’s worth adopting the mindset that you’ll need to be flexible when working as a dental nurse.

How much does a dental nurse make?

If you live in the UK and choose to work in the NHS, your starting salary will usually be between band 3 and band 4 of the Agenda for Change pay rates. Some senior dental nurses will start at band 5 or higher.

Band 3

  • Less than 2 years – £22,816
  • More than 2 years – £24,336

Band 4

  • Less than 3 years – £25,147
  • More than 3 years – £27,596

Band 5

  • Less than 2 years – £28,407
  • 2 to 4 years – £30,639
  • More than 4 years – £34,581

If you work outside of the NHS, then your dental nurse salary will vary depending on your location, employer, years of experience, and educational achievements. However, in the UK the average dental nurse earns between £21,730 and £32,934.

Other average salary expectations for dental nurses from around the world include:

What is career progression like as a dental nurse?

As you gain more experience as a dental nurse, you’ll have opportunities to advance your dentistry responsibilities or move into different workplace settings – anywhere from a private dental surgery to the armed forces, for example.

A common path dental nurses take is to become an oral health practitioner or complete additional training to become a dental hygienist, orthodontic specialist, or dental therapist. 

You can also transition into more management-based positions, such as a dental nurse team leader.

How to become a dental nurse: additional learning

Learning how to become a dental nurse is a fascinating journey that prepares you for the hugely rewarding world of dentistry. If you have a caring personality and want a career in dentistry, then this is the role for you. Why not explore our full range of dentistry courses?  At FutureLearn, we work with leading healthcare practitioners to improve your knowledge and skills.

Online dentistry courses at FutureLearn

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