Dentist: job description

Last updated: 5 Jul 2023, 16:23

Dentists are medical healthcare professionals who work with patients to treat dental and oral disease and injuries and to prevent dental health problems.

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What does a dentist do? Salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Skills

As a dentist, you will examine patients’ dental and oral hygiene, offer advice and carry out dental and surgical procedures.

Typical duties include:

  • carrying out examinations in a surgery or hospital, or in community locations such as nursing homes
  • operating technical equipment such as X-ray machines
  • working with other medical professionals such as health visitors and dental nurses
  • 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
  • leading and supporting a dental team
  • providing more complex treatment in a hospital setting to patients who have suffered disease or facial injuries

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.

Graduate salaries

Newly qualified dentists in the NHS start by completing dental foundation training (vocational training in Scotland) on an annual salary of £36,288, according to the NHS website. Salaries at this stage are set by the Department of Health so aren’t open to individual negotiation.

Earnings will increase as you progress and will depend on whether you choose to work in an NHS or private practice, a community setting or a hospital.

Typical employers of dentists

  • High street dental practices. (Most dentists in these settings are self-employed contractors and mix NHS and private work.)
  • Community dental clinics, which can include providing dental care in patients’ homes and other locations when patients cannot access high-street dental care (eg children with special needs or elderly people).
  • Hospitals.
  • Private health organisations.
  • The armed forces.
  • Public health organisations.

Foundation dentist applications are coordinated by Health Education England and NHS Education for Scotland, and advertised on a national portal.

Qualifications and training required

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 – often three As at A level or equivalent (although this may be lower at some institutions), 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 at least a 2.1 in a relevant undergraduate degree (in biology or chemistry, for example).

You may need to take a test such as the UK clinical aptitude test (UKCAT) or BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) for your course.

Key skills for dentists

  • A thorough and methodical approach.
  • Manual dexterity.
  • Teamwork skills.
  • Strong and clear communication skills, with the ability to adapt your communication to suit different patients.
  • Organisational skills.
  • Business skills.

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