If you are wondering how to become a dentist, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the medical and nursing profession, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Dentists work with the public to promote oral health, prevent dental disease and treat problems affecting the mouth and teeth. Many dentists work as general dental practitioners in the community, taking private and NHS patients.

    As a general practice dentist, your work could involve providing patients with a range of services including:

    dental treatments, such as fillings, extractions, fitting dentures and bridges
    taking X-rays and administering local anaesthetic
    keeping dental records for each patient
    referring patients to a dental hygienist or dental therapist for certain treatments.
    As a dentist with your own a practice, you would also be responsible for the day-to-day running of the business, and managing and leading a team.

    You could also work as a dentist in:

    the Community Dental Service – providing treatment to people with special needs, young children and the elderly
    hospitals – carrying out specialised dental work, such as restorative dentistry, orthodontics and oral surgery.
    universities – teaching and researching dentistry
    corporate practice – working for a large business providing general dental services to company employees
    the armed forces – providing dental treatment and operations on soldiers in both war and peace times.
    In all areas of dentistry you would use a range of dental and surgical techniques and instruments.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good dentists include:

    good practical skills and good eyesight
    the ability to concentrate for long periods of time
    a real interest and ability in science
    excellent communication skills to explain treatments and oral hygiene to patients
    a friendly and sympathetic approach
    the ability to put anxious patients at ease
    a professional and confident manner to gain the trust of your patients
    the ability to relate well to a wide range of people
    good leadership skills to motivate your staff to work well as a team
    business and management skills to run a dental practice.

    How to become a dentist
    To work as a dentist you need a degree from one of the thirteen UK university dental schools (the British Dental Association hold details). This will usually take five years of full-time study, and result in a bachelor’s degree (BDS or BChD). When you graduate, you must register with General Dental Council.

    To get onto a degree you will usually need three A levels at grades ranging from AAA to ABB, including chemistry (or another science) and maths. You will also need at least five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths and science subjects. If you do not have qualifications in science, some dental schools run a one year pre-dental course designed to prepare you for an approved dentistry degree.

    Please check with colleges or universities for exact entry requirements.

    During the dentistry degree you will study areas ranging from psychology and sociology to medicine and microbiology. You will specifically examine the structure and function of oral and dental tissues. You will also gain practical experience through clinical training and placements.

    You may need a driving licence to work in the Community Dental Service, to allow you to visit patients in a variety of clinics.

    Training and Development
    When you have graduated from dental school you will begin a period of work-based vocational training (VT), working under supervision in an approved dental practice.

    When you have completed the VT stage, the next step will usually be to join an established dental practice as an associate. This involves working as a self-employed dentist in a practice owned by another dental professional. With experience, you may go on to become a partner, or set up on your own.

    As a qualified dentist, you can specialise by doing further postgraduate training in a specific area of interest, for example orthodontics (straightening or moving teeth).

    Throughout your career, you need to continue to develop your professional skills. To maintain your registration with the General Dental Council (GDC) you need to complete around 250 hours of professional development (CPD) every five years. Reading, training courses and seminars can all contribute to CPD. Check the GDC website for details.

    Dentists from overseas
    New NHS reforms intend to speed up the registration process for non-EU dentists. If you qualified outside the EU, you will take the GDC Overseas Registration Examination (this replaces the International Qualifying Exam). Check with the British Dental Association or GDC for details.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Dentists in general practice are mostly self-employed. Their annual income varies depending on the amount and type of work they do, the combination of NHS/private work, and the running costs of the business.

    A trainee dentist during the vocational training year can earn around £28,000.
    Qualified and experienced dentists doing NHS work could earn up to £80,000.
    Senior dentists in the community dental service can earn up to £71,000.
    Consultant (hospital) dentists can earn around £96,000.

    Job Prospects
    You will find most opportunities for work in general practice, as a self-employed dentist. The Hospital Dental Service also employs around 10% of qualified dentists, and around 6% of dentists work in the Community Dental Service. You could also move from one branch of dentistry to another.

    NHS funded Personal Dental Services, and the proposed Dental Access Centres, may also increase the number of job opportunities within general practice dentistry.

    NHS reforms will see a range of incentives aimed at attracting dentists on career breaks back into the profession, including an estimated £4,000 ‘welcome back’ grant, refresher training and flexible working options.

    Useful medicine and nursing resources:
    British Dental Association
    64 Wimpole Street
    W1G 8YS
    Tel: 020 7935 0875

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