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Is becoming a Dental Nurse the right step for your career?

When deciding what career path to follow it is no surprise that so many of us stumble, confused by so many options and opportunities, not knowing which one is best. While we may be a bit bias here at TheDentalNurse, we do think that if you haven’t quite made your mind up, then you should seriously consider a career in dental nursing. It could be just the role you are looking for!

So what is a Dental Nurse?

It’s all well and good saying that you should seriously consider being a dental nurse, but what exactly is one? Dental nurses are one of the most important communication links between the dentist and the client. They help clients to relax throughout the process of meeting their dentists, and help dentists prepare by sterilizing equipments and readying other essential materials required for dental procedures.

Sounds simple, right? Not quite.

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You need Qualifications

That is to say you need to enroll in a course certified from the General Dental Council (GDC). The entry requirement to enroll on a certified course while not restricted, does require you to be at least 18 years old, and hold good GCSE level or equivalent certification with a sound command of the English language. Potential courses you may enroll on are:

  • 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

In addition to the above, if you wish to become a dental nurse you should consider these qualities of personality that would be vital in helping you succeed:

  • Calm and collected thinking process. You will be dealing with all sorts of clients and work colleagues that will frequently require your aid, some through difficult procedures that could be stressful.
  • Excellent communication skills. Your main job is to be the main link between the dentist and the client, and it is essential for you to be able to communicate with both parties without any information gaps which may cause misunderstandings.
  • Organizing skills. One of the most important jobs you will undertake after becoming a dental nurse is to help dentists before and during procedures. This may include sterilizing equipment, to gathering essential materials so it is essential to be well organized.
  • Multi-tasking skills. As a dental nurse you will need to be able to juggle a lot of things at once, you may sometimes need to look after the reception, or patients, you may need to help prep the dentist, and more. And sometimes all at once!

So assuming you’ve met the criteria to be a dental nurse, you may want to consider what it’s actually like to work as one.

How’s the Work Environment?

Dental nurses have a wide range of jobs they may be asked to do depending on where they work including hospitals, dental clinics, community, etc. The experience you may have as a dental nurse could vary greatly between location, for example a dental nurse working at a hospital may be required to assist doctors with a wide range of oral procedures, including assisting in surgical procedures which is quite different to the typical relationship between dentist and dental nurse you usually experience at your local practice.

A community dental nurse is a bit different in that they may have to provide domiciliary care to elderly or differently abled clients who cannot visit the hospital or clinic for dental care.  

While the type of work you do varies between career path, so too do the work hours you can expect to put in. That being said you can typically expect a 9 to 5 job with an average of 30 to 40 hours of work per week, but this does vary and you could be expected to work evenings, and or weekends.

You renumeration for these hours, while increasing as you become more experienced, and varying from workplace to workplace does have a roughly standard average. You could therefore expect to see your starting rate at around £16,000 reaching £18,000-£30,000 as you gain more experience.  

But what about job satisfaction? Dental Nurses working at the NHS, according to a survey by UK Indeed, gave their job an overall of 3.8 stars which is more than satisfactory when you consider their salary and the work load associated with it. In our opinion, like any workplace it has its ups and its downs, but overall it we think you’ll like working with the people, and go home knowing you have done some good each day!

So you’ve chosen to become a Dental Nurse, what opportunities lead on from it?

There is a broad scope of career opportunities for you to discover once you qualify as a dental nurse. You can work full-time or part-time, you can work on a permanent  or temporary basis (often with higher pay), and you have a wide choice of venues to operate in such as hospitals, dental clinics etc.

But what about after that? What comes next?

If you feel like you could expand on your dental nurse career then there are career advancement opportunities open to you, which include:

Dental Radiographer

Dental radiographers, as the name suggests, take radiographs of patients under the dentists’ instructions, however they do not require dentist supervision to take radiographs.

A newly qualified dental radiographer is within Band 5 of the NHS salary which is averaged around £24,907 annually. However, experienced radiographers between £31,365 and £37,890 annually depending on their level of experience.

Oral Health Educator

An oral health educator is not exactly a teacher, but the gist of it is the same. Your job will be to instruct and advise patients about oral health, under a dentist’s instructions.

Oral health educators earn an average of £20,165 per annum. But with time and experience, the wage may increase to up to £22,832.

Orthodontic Nurse

Orthodontic nurses provide a detail understanding of orthodontic theory, procedures, and treatments, which basically means they will provide patients with details of anything related to their teeth and jaw.

An orthodontic nurse earns an average of £21,928 per annum, and top earners could expect to earn up to £23,966 per year.

Dental Sedation Nurse

After specializing in Dental Sedation, you will be able to administer oral, inhalation, and intravenous conscious sedation, if and when needed by the dentist.

A dental sedation nurse has one of the highest salaries in the dental nursing industry with an average of £27,000 per annum, but the top earners can earn more.

Special Care Nurse

A special care nurse assists in the treatment and delivery of oral care for people with special needs.

Special care nurses have an average starting salary of about £24,907 to £30,615 per year. While the most experienced special care nurses make between £31,365 and £44,503 as per Band 6 or 7 on the NHS pay scale.

It is therefore clear that while there is plenty to keep you busy in dental nursing alone, should you wish to divert into another field there is ample opportunity for you to do so, with suitable pay.

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But are jobs freely available?

While jobs are in abundance in dental care, it is with caution that we clarify that a large number of these are for temporary work (which usually pays more). In fact, of 100 jobs we surveyed, just 30 were for full time vacancies, while the remainder where part time (locum) gigs, or for dental nurse apprentices.

But the fact that there are even 30 full time jobs listed should go some way to showing you that there is a real need for dental nurses in this market and job opportunities are there should you want them.

Final thoughts on determining if becoming a dental nurse is the right step for you

Many people regret the careers they have taken, in the sense that they think their jobs are boring, dull, and without life which can lead to anxiety and depression. You therefore don’t want to jump head first into a career like dental nursing, without being sure it is the right fit for you, the last thing you want to do is waste of all that money and time training to do something you aren’t actually interested in!

So we suggest you carefully consider these points:

1. What are your interests?

While we aren’t suggesting you should be a tooth nut, having some interest in the dental genre in general could be an important consideration. But then, so could wanting to help people.

2. What are your strengths/skills?

Although there are no skills or stringent examinations requirements for seeking GDC certification, the courses that provide them will be much easier and exciting if you are interested in science (biology to be specific). This is because although dentists aren’t performing surgeries where a person’s life is usually at risk, they do perform oral procedures on patients, which is part of human anatomy.

3. What are your values/personality traits?

One thing you must keep in mind is that dental nurses interact heavily with patients. No matter how far you advance in your dentistry career that is always a constant, patients will always be there leaning on you for support for which you have to be calm and have a strong helpful nature.

It is also advisable to be a team player since your primary job requires you to assist the dentist before and during the dental procedure. Being organized wouldn’t go amiss either!   

4. How much money do you want to make?

You will make roughly £16,000 a year while starting out which isn’t great money, but it is in line with what you can expect to make in other professions as a beginner. The wages do increase of course, but in truth you’ll never earn huge money without diverting your career into another path stemming off from being a dental nurse. This is more about where your passion lies, and if helping people is worth the money to you.

5. Why do you want to pursue Dental Nursing?

If after reading the above you believe being a dental nurse could be the right career move for you then I for one support such, we need more people like you. But remember, there will be hard times, there will be times you feel too tired to carry on, times you wonder why you do this. Consider, what made you want to be a dental nurse during those times and use that to push you through. It will be worth it.

I appreciate that not everyone has what it takes to become a dental nurse as it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But, should you delve into it as a career, I believe you will find it rewarding. I hope that we have been able to help you understand what it means to have a career as a dental nurse, giving you all necessary information you require but if you think anything is missing please feel free to head over to the forums and ask some questions.

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