Do you like working with your hands, helping people and being creative all at the same time? Are you passionate about oral health? Then perhaps a career in dentistry is the right career for you.
But before you jump head first into university applications, make sure you’ve done a little soul searching to confirm your interest in becoming a dentist. Once you’ve done that, all you have to do is follow the steps below, and you’ll soon be on your way to a potentially lucrative career!
So, how do you become a dentist?
1. Research the Profession
What do dentists do? What skills do they need to perform their job? What are their work schedules like? And how much do they get paid? Get the answers to all those questions below.
Dentists are basically the superheroes of teeth, their superpower being the ability to give people gleaming Hollywood smiles. They’re trained physicians who diagnose and treat teeth and mouth problems, as well as work to prevent dental disease and promote oral health.
They typically work in:
- General dental practices
- The community dental service (CDS) which provides treatment to people with special needs, young children and the elderly
- Dental public health, helping to improve the dental health of your local area
- The armed forces
They can specialise in a specific area like:
- Adult dentistry
- Oral and maxillofacial pathology
- Oral and maxillofacial radiology
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery
- Oral medicine
- Orofacial pain
- Paediatric dentistry
- Restorative dentistry
- Urgent care
Depending on their employer and their particular position, their day-to-day duties and responsibilities include:
- Examining teeth and diagnosing patients’ dental conditions
- Explaining treatment options to patients
- Carrying out treatments like fillings, extractions and fitting dentures and bridges
- Taking X-rays and giving local anaesthetics
- Referring patients to dental hygienists or dental therapists when necessary
- Maintaining patients’ dental records
- Providing education about looking after the teeth and mouth, as well as promoting oral health
- Recruiting, training and managing staff
Essential Skills and Qualities
As a dentist, you’ll need to show:
- A high level of communication and interpersonal skills
- Manual dexterity and technical dental skills
- The ability to carry out delicate work with medical instruments
- The ability to concentrate for long periods of time
- An interest in the welfare of others
- A sympathetic manner (to deal with patients’ fears)
- Good administrative and leadership abilities
- Excellent IT skills
Working Hours and Conditions
If you work in general practice, your working hours will typically be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, you may be expected to work evenings, weekends or on an out-of-hours rota. Your hours will occasionally be longer and more irregular in a hospital setting. Self-employment and freelance work in hospital dentistry is possible for consultants.
When treating patients, you’ll usually need to wear a tunic, surgical gloves and safety glasses for protection and to reduce the risk of infection.
Working as a dentist can be a very stressful job, especially when handling patients’ pain and working to tight schedules. Eye strain, meanwhile, as well as neck and back fatigue is common.
Although travel is rare, it may occasionally be necessary if you work in a hospital or to attend international conferences.
Newly qualified dentists who want to work in the NHS must undertake dental foundation training for one year and will receive a salary of £31.355 (applicable for 2017/2018).
The starting salary for dental trainees working in the NHS is between £36,000 and £45,750 a year. As a salaried dentist, you’ll start earning between £38,500 and £82,500. This increases to up to £102,500 for consultants.
If you’re self-employed, meanwhile, you could earn anywhere between £50,000 and £100,000 annually.
Dentists, along with other medical practitioners such as anaesthetists and paediatricians, are among the highest paying jobs in the UK.
2. Get the Qualifications
A dental degree (BDS, BDent, BDSc or BChD) approved by the General Dental Council (GDC) is essential to practise as a dentist. Courses typically take five years to complete but you may be able to do an accelerated four-year course if you’ve already completed a biology, chemistry or biomedical degree and achieved at least a 2:1.
Courses are offered by 17 accredited dental schools across the country (including King’s College London Dental Institute and the University of Manchester), as well as the Defence Dental Services Training Establishment. The subjects studied include:
- Dental health education
- Dental pathology
- Management and care of patients
- Preventive dentistry
Entry to a dentistry course usually requires five GCSEs (grades A-C), including English, maths and science subjects, as well as three A levels (grades AAA-ABB), including biology and chemistry. Having said, make sure you carefully read and understand the particular university’s entry requirements.
It’s important to note that competition for dental schools is incredibly fierce and some universities also require their students to sit the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT), the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) or the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GMSAT).
Upon qualification, you’ll need to register with the GDC, the profession’s governing body. The registration fee depends on when you submit your application; for example, registering in January 2017 would cost you £890 whereas registering in October will only set you back £222.51. Registration requires annual renewal.
You’ll then need to complete up to 2 years of postgraduate training which involves dental core training and specialist training within hospitals or the community.
3. Land Your First Job
Once you’re a qualified dentist, you’ll have to start thinking about finding a full-time job. Here’s where to look for opportunities, as well as how to get some work experience under your belt to add value to your application.
How to Gain Work Experience
Although pre-entry dentistry experience is not essential, a few weeks of related work experience or work shadowing can help make you a stronger candidate.
You can accomplish this in various settings, including:
- General dental practices (most universities will ask for a minimum of 2 weeks’ experience at a GDP)
- Private dentistry practices
- Orthodontic practices
- Hospital dentistry practices / Oral and maxillofacial surgeries
- Dental laboratories
- Community dental practices
Note that some practices don’t allow work experience students for various reasons, like needing to be over 18 years old or immunised against Hepatitis B.
You should also consider volunteering at a hospice, care home, hospital or charity shop, for example. Many of the skills you’ll learn through volunteer work are transferable to dentistry, and the experience will make for an excellent addition to your CV.
Where to Look for Dentist Jobs
If you’re hoping to work in the NHS, the NHS Jobs website is the place to look, which lists jobs in community clinics and hospitals.
You may also be able to find opportunities in professional journals such as the British Dental Journal, which regularly carries over 300 vacancies.
Another great site to explore for relevant opportunities is BDJ Jobs.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide on getting your job search started. Plus, get tips and advice on creating a winning CV and cover letter, as well as preparing for a job interview.
4. Develop Your Career
What are your options after successfully becoming a dentist? How can you progress your career?
- Move up the ranks: With experience, you could go on to lead a team, manage a unit or a department.
- Set up your own practice: Perhaps the most lucrative option, as well as the dream of many dentists, this will require an aptitude for business and a huge financial investment on your part. You could, alternatively, become a partner in an existing practice.
- Move on to teaching: Another option is progressing to teaching and training students, trainee dentists and other healthcare professionals. This can be done in a hospital or dentistry setting or a classroom.
Undertaking continued professional development (CPD), meanwhile, is essential to be allowed to continue practising as a dentist. You can update and further your knowledge through a wide range of short courses and postgraduate qualifications, many of which can be taken on a part-time basis.
Finally, it’s extremely important to stay abreast of industry news and developments. You can do this by reading professional journals as well as attending conferences around the world.
Are you considering pursuing a career in dentistry? Perhaps you’ve already followed the steps outlined above and started practising as a dentist, and would like to impart your wisdom on future dentists? Join the conversation down below and let us know!
Meanwhile, if you’re not completely sold on the idea of fixing people’s teeth for a living, why not check out these alternative career paths for some inspiration?
This article was originally published in January 2014.