Dentist: job description

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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Most dentists work as general dental practitioners, usually in a high street dental practice

What do dentists do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

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
  • Leading and supporting a dental team

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.

Typical employers of dentists

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.

Some roles are available in community dental care, working in community clinics, homes and other settings with patients referred to the service because of difficulties accessing high street dental care (eg children with special needs or elderly people).

There are also roles available in hospital dental care. This involves advice and treatment for patients referred for specialist dental care. 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 typically provide treatment to the general public. The patients of hospital dentists tend to need more complex treatment than those of general dental practitioners.

There are alternative types of work available to dentists, such as employment in the armed forces or in dental public health.

As well as NHS Jobs, Dental Guide and the British Dental Journal are good websites to look at for vacancies in dentistry.

Qualifications and training required

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 – 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 (eg in biology or chemistry).

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

Key skills for dentists

  • Communication
  • Patience
  • A thorough and methodical approach
  • Ability to work long hours, often under pressure
  • Manual dexterity
  • Teamwork skills
  • Strong and clear communication skills, with the ability to adapt your communication to suit different patients

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