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A Career in General Dental Practice and the Dental Team

Learn from two vocational trainees what it is like to work in general dental practice and how the dental team works together.

The majority of the NHS dental workforce work in a General Practice setting. It’s where all dental graduates spend their first year after graduation working as Vocational Trainees (VT) like Kerri who features in this video.

It is vitally important that before you chose dentistry as your career you understand a little bit about what working as a dentist involves, but because everyone spends time as a VT (known as a foundation dentist outside of Scotland) and most dentists work as General Dental Practitioners (GDPs) it is especially important that you know a bit about General Practice.

Andy, who also features in this video, is a GDP but he is also the practice principal in this practice. He owns and manages his dental practice and acts as the employer for all the staff within the practice. To help him with the business side of running the practice he employs a Practice Manager who is also part of the dental team. Andy’s NHS income comes partly from the local health board who pay part of the patient’s charge for dental treatment and partly from the patient if they pay for their treatment. Some groups of patients who are on benefits may be exempt from payment. Any private income is paid directly by the patient to the practice. The payment system in the NHS is different in Scotland and England so that’s something you should spend a bit of time researching.

The other members of the team working in general practice include the Dental Nurses who support the dentists in providing treatment and look after the instruments and materials. It’s their job to make sure that everything needed for a particular treatment is available when the patient comes in. Some Dental Nurses are also trained to take radiographs (x-rays), others are trained to help with sedated patients, while others provide oral health and hygiene advice to children and their parents as part of the Childsmile programme. The team also includes the Receptionist who books all the appointments and makes sure the clinics run smoothly.

Kerri also works in Andy’s team as his VT and she is spending a year in the practice being supported to develop her skills in her first year after dental school. Most of the time she works on her own but sometimes she will do treatments with Andy if, for example, they are things that she is less used to doing or new things that she is learning to do.

The Dental Technician is a vital part of the dental team and may work within a dental practice or may work in a separate laboratory and work for multiple dental practices. The dental technician uses the impressions taken of the patient’s mouth to make dentures, crowns, bridges, and inlays to replace missing teeth. This is an extremely skilled job that requires a very high level of manual dexterity and artistic ability. It is important that the dentist can communicate to the technician exactly what the requirements are for a particular job as the technician does not normally see the patient and works solely from the dental impression and dentist’s instructions. Digital dentistry is a growing area, and more and more dentists are taking digital scans of their patient’s mouths instead of taking impressions. This allows the technician to 3D print some parts of the prostheses they make.

Working as a GDP is a very varied job, they provide all sorts of different treatments to a wide range of people of all ages so need to be good at everything. GDPs also need to be able to spot when something in the mouth is not as it should be and are often the first professionals to spot oral cancer. You might not realise but part of your regular dental check-up is an oral cancer screening.

Being a GDP is a busy job, there are often patients booked in all day plus emergencies to see but most GDPs enjoy the fast-paced nature of their job and the variety it offers. We’ll hear in the next section about how COVID-19 has changed the way general practices run and what dentists have had to do to adapt to these changes.

One aspect of general practice that most dentists really enjoy is getting to know the patients. They are often in a practice long enough to watch their younger patients grow up. Many patients confide in their dentist about all the good and less good things going on in their lives.

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Becoming a Dentist

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