As a dentist, you will typically be examining the dental and oral hygiene of patients, and either offering advice, or carrying out dental and surgical procedures. Other tasks may include:
- operating technical equipment such as X-ray machines
- keeping accurate records of patients’ dental structure (which may need to be used to identify individuals)
- keeping up-to-date with developments in dentistry
- working with a medical nurse and a medical receptionist
- continuing training and specialising
You may be required to work some overtime and weekend slots, but hours tend to be a lot more regular than those of medical doctors.
Most dentists work as general dental practitioners (GDPs), usually in a high street dental practice, and are self-employed contractors, mixing NHS and private work. They can earn between £50,000 and £110,000. Some dentists work wholly in private practice, and may earn more than £140,000.
Some roles are available in community dental care, working in community clinics and other settings with patients referred to the service because of difficulties accessing high street dental care. For example, community dentists work with children with special needs and people with severe physical disabilities. Salaried dentists employed by the NHS in community dental services typically earn a basic salary of between around £39,000 and £83,000.
There are also roles available in hospital dental care. This involves advice and treatment for patients referred for specialist dental care, for example, for oral and maxillofacial surgery or orthodontics. Hospital dental services also provide dental care for hospital patients, whether it is required because of an emergency or because of a long stay, but they do not provide treatment to the general public. The patients of hospital dentists tend to need more complex treatment than those of general dental practitioners. Hospital dentists are employed on the same terms and conditions as hospital doctors.
Newly qualified dentists who want to work in the NHS must undertake dental foundation training, for which the salary is around £31,500. Dentists who progress to become consultants in dental specialties earn a basic salary of between around £77,000 and £103,500 per year.
In order to work as a dentist you will need to have a degree in dentistry approved by the General Dental Council. This is typically a five year course with high entry requirements, usually three As at A level or equivalent, often including chemistry and biology. Some dental schools offer one-year pre-dental courses to broaden access to other students. There are a few accelerated four-year courses available for candidates who already have undergraduate degrees.
For most courses, you will be required to take a test such as the UK clinical aptitude test (UKCAT) or BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT).
- A thorough and methodical approach
- Ability to work long hours, often under pressure
- Good ethical grounding
- Teamwork skills