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How do you become a Qualified Dental Nurse?

A dental nurse acts as the bridge between the dentist and the patient, assisting both through the patient’s visit. From holding the patient’s hand as a sympathetic ear, to preparing and ensuring the proper equipment and materials, to sterilizing and cleaning used instruments the dental nurse performs a plethora of vital roles.It is through these roles that a dental nurse can not only become a very important part of a dentistry operation, but may be able to open up further career paths due to the firsthand knowledge obtained in the role. Whether you want to advance as aneducator, office manager, dental sales representative, dental hygienist, or even a dentist, taking the first steps as a dental nurse could prove invaluable. It is one of the best occupations for you if you are interested in dental industry career, and want to study the field up-close and earn money at the same time.

What qualifications are needed to become a dental nurse?

There are numerous courses that one may attend to become a dental nurse, and while course entry requirements will vary between organizations, on the whole they are not overly stringent (which we discuss below) which opens the door to wide variety of candidates.This is good news because the industry always needs more qualified workers, and they can be put through their paces on the actual course to ensure they are suitablefor the role.So what are the courses?Any course you wish to embark on must be certified with the General Dental Council(GDC), and meet one of these listing criteria:

  • Foundation Degree in Dental Nursing
  • Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing
  • National Diploma in Dental Nursing (awarded by NEBDN)
  • Level 3 Diploma in Dental Nursing

What do you need to qualify for a course?

Although there are no formal entry qualifications to enroll for a dental nurse course, you are expected to have suitable GCSE’s or equivalent qualifications, and a good command of the English language. You are also required to be 18 years of age or older.

Should you meet the criteria to enter a course, you can apply to them at one of the following locations:

  • Local Colleges
  • Online Learning Providers
  • Universities
  • Apprentice Schemes

Which one may be the best fit for you largely depends on whether you want to stay at home or live on campus, and whether you want to study full or part time (with some part time work as a dental nurse apprentice).Each has their benefits, and drawbacks. Studying full time on campus provides you with face-to-face interactions with your teachers and colleagues, and allows you to fully indulge yourself in your studies. But it is more expensive, and may not be suitable for those looking to enter into this career at a later stage in their career.Alternatively, part time study through an appropriate program, especially one that supports you working part time as a dental nurse apprentice not only provides you with cheaper, flexible study, but it allows you to earn (and learn) while doing so.

What do the courses consist of?

Dental nursing courses cover a plethora of topics which will help you prepare for your real work environment in the dental field. Most of the universities, local colleges, and online providers have the same type of course, with similar learning material so you can be sure to receive a similar standard of education among them,as set by the National Education Board for Dental Nurses (NEBDN). This ensures that whatever learning route you take to becoming a dental nurse, you can expect to have the requisite knowledge to do the job safely and correctly. Upon acceptance on to a dental nursing course, you will be expected to study the following topics:

  • GDC Guidelines
  • Health and Safety
  • Legal and Ethical
  • Radiology
  • Infection Control
  • Anatomy of Tooth and Basic Anatomy
  • Microbiology and Pathology
  • Oral Diseases
  • Patient and Management
  • Assessing patients’ health and treatment
  • Oral Health promotion and Preventive Diseases
  • Orthopedic Procedures
  • Dentally related drugs, materials, and instruments

How much does a course cost?

Your fee structure is similar in most local colleges and universities, but it does vary with the type of course you take, and whether it is part time or full time. The average prices are:

  • Full time: £9,250
  • Part time: £1,465
  • Online: £1,490

Career Progression and Job Opportunities

Once you have completed the course your next logical step would be to become a dental nurse. However, should it be of interest you may expand your qualification base into areas such as:

  • Radiology
  • Oral health education
  • Sedation nursing
  • Implant nursing
  • Orthodontic nursing
  • Fluoride application

You can also use the course as entry to a number of higher education courses like foundation or a bachelor’s degree which will allow you to expand your career into different branches of dentistry.
Just because those options are open to you, it doesn’t mean you have to take an alternate career path. You qualified to become a dental nurse after all. There are a large number of jobs open to dental nurses all around the UK, albeit many being temporary work (which usually pays more). In one survey, only 30 out of 100 available vacancies were for full-time dental nurses. But that is still plenty of opportunity for you!

There are many routes towards becoming a dental nurse, and starting your career allowing you to tailor it to your needs and circumstances. However, this doesn’t mean one road is easier than another. Like any career, dental nursing is challenging and takes real commitment.
The majority of your work involves taking care of patients, and helping dentists in their duties. It’s a rewarding job, but one we recommend for those who have an interest in dentistry. Should that sound like you, then we hope to see you soon!
If you’re interested in a career in dental nursing and want to learn more, we highly recommend that you read our other article: Is becoming a Dental Nurse the right step for your career.

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