toothpaste and toothbrush dental nurse

How to become a dental nurse

Dental Nurses assist Dentists and help to take care of patients undergoing a number of procedures. From basic check-ups to complex surgery. As a Dental Nurse, you may work for the NHS in a clinic or hospital, or for a private practice, on a full-time or part-time basis.

Average salary

£16,000 – £28,000 (dependent on experience and location)

Required qualifications

There are two ways to qualify as a Dental Nurse. You can either study at college with a practical placement in a dental practice. Or you can start work immediately as a trainee Dental Nurse. Both options will provide you with the training and experience you need to attain certification with the General Dental Council (GDC). This is required to work as a Dental Nurse in the UK.

Many Dental Nurses start as trainees without formal qualifications. If you start your career as a trainee Dental Nurse, you’ll be able to get on-the-job training and be paid a starter salary while you work towards certification.

You can also choose to study a dental nursing course at a college or university that leads to a qualification and allows you to register with the GDC. GDC registration requires passing an exam and completing two years of surgery experience.

Eligible courses include:

  • 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

To start one of these courses or start working as a trainee Dental Nurse, you’ll usually need GCSEs including English, Maths and Science grades A-C.

Key skills

  • Good people skills, including the ability to work with children and difficult patients
  • Computer literacy
  • Ability to work well under pressure
  • Ability to work well in a team
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Organisation and a methodical approach to work
  • Confidence and a calm manner
  • Ability to multitask

Useful work experience

Most dental practices will require you to have 1-2 years clinical experience working as a Dental Nurse. The easiest way to achieve this experience is by starting as a Trainee Dental Nurse and working towards a qualification while gaining experience at the same time.

Full-time courses also include practical work experience in either a private dental practice or an NHS clinic.

Other experience working in a customer-facing role, particularly nursing and caring roles (not necessarily in the dental field) will put you at an advantage.

A typical working day…

Dental Nurses typically work either in private practice clinics, or in the dental department of a hospital. Some Dental Nurses work within the community, which requires traveling around, and meeting with patients in their own home.

As a Dental Nurse, you may be contracted to work full-time or work part-time on an hourly basis. Most dental surgeries are open regular office hours of 9-5, but some private practices and emergency clinics are open later in the evening or 24 hours.

You’ll be working with several different patients over the course of a day.

General responsibilities may include:

  • Preparing and passing instruments to the dentist or hygienist
  • Suctioning water and saliva from the patient’s mouth during treatment
  • Preparing filings and other materials
  • Providing support and reassurance to the patient
  • Sterilising instruments
  • Processing and filing x-rays
  • Tidying and cleaning the dental surgery
  • Recording and filing information about patients
  • Advising patients on oral hygiene
  • Carrying out stock control
  • Working in the reception area taking bookings and payments

Where could you be in five years time?

After several years of experience working as a Dental Nurse, you could train to become a Dental Hygienist, Dental Therapist or Orthodontic Therapist. It’s also possible to progress to a more senior dental nursing role, specialising in areas such as orthodontics, implants or oral surgery.

Moving into more of a management role is possible by becoming a Dental Nurse Team Leader or Practice Manager.

Working in an educational role is another option for experienced Dental Nurses, where you could work as a trainer or assessor for new trainees.

For those with a high degree of confidence and with a talent for sales, there is also the opportunity to work as a dental sales representative on commission, sell dental products and equipment to dentists and practices.

A minimum of 150 hours of continuous professional development in a five year period is needed to maintain GDC registration. Vocational training courses provided by the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses (NEBDN) allow Dental Nurses to progress their career and specialise in other areas. Examples of available courses include:

  • Oral Health Education
  • Dental Sedation Nursing
  • Orthodontic Nursing
  • Special Care Dental Nursing
  • Dental Radiography

Best part of the job

If you enjoy meeting and interacting with new people, you’ll find yourself well suited to this career. Caring for others and helping them to improve their smile, reduce pain and deal with dental fear can be very rewarding.

No two days are the same in dental nursing, and there is a lot of variety in the working week. If you dread the idea of sitting at a desk 9-5, this could be the ideal career for you.

As this is a job you can start without any qualifications, it’s an excellent career path for those who want to begin work immediately, without studying first at college.

What to be prepared for

You may need to deal with difficult patients and dissatisfied customers from time to time, which requires patience and a professional but caring attitude.

As you’ll be working physically close to other people and working with sharp objects, you are at increased risk of infection. Safety equipment such as gloves and masks reduces the risk but does not eliminate it entirely.

Working as a Dental Nurse requires you to be on your feet for most of the day so you’ll need a good level of physical fitness and stamina

Key qualities

The most important part of being a Dental Nurse is putting the patient first. Dental Nurses must be compassionate, good listeners and able to relate to a wide range of people. Dental nursing will be a good career for you if you thrive in a varied work environment with the opportunity to interact with people and make a positive difference in their lives.

Check out our Dental Nurse jobs to give you even more info on what’s required.


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