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How to Become a Dentist

Published: Thursday 11th July 2019

As a profession responsible for helping and making people’s lives better, dentistry is a highly respected and rewarding career. It’s also a stable job with a low unemployment rate. In 2018, British Dental Association (BDA) figures showed that 68% of NHS practices in England were struggling to fill vacant posts, an 18% rise from 2016. While people will always need essential dental treatment, the industry has branched out into other niches. Cosmetic dentistry, for one, has become very popular, leading to further demand for qualified dentists.

Clean teeth denture, dental jaw model, mirror and dentistry instruments in dentist's office

A typical day in the life of a dentist

As a dentist, day-to-day work can be varied and challenging. As well as performing routine check-ups, you’ll be required to carry out more complex procedures such as fillings, root canals, fitting crowns/dentures, and extractions. The role involves liaising with lots of people, such as suppliers, staff, other medical specialists and, of course, explaining treatment options to patients.

In addition to that, there’s quite a bit of administration work to deal with, especially if you’re running your own practice – although most dentists have staff to help with this.

As dentists are in a position of trust, they need to be good communicators and listeners, tactful and understanding, able to respond effectively to patient concerns and needs. It goes without saying that for the physical aspects of the role, you’ll need excellent eye-to-hand co-ordination.

Senior woman having dental treatment at dentist's office.

Training and qualifications

Becoming a dentist takes time and effort. To start, you’ll need good A-levels in chemistry, biology and physics or maths, followed by an approved degree in dentistry such as a BDS or BChD. This is a complex curriculum including subjects such as anatomy, biochemistry, pathology, and psychology. After that, you can expect at least five years of training at dental school, followed by another period of one or two years of supervised practice. Despite the high demand for qualified dentists, places at dental school can be limited and candidates need to be prepared for a lot of competition.

Finally, once this is all successfully completed, you’ll need to register with the General Dental Council, the organisation responsible for monitoring and regulating dental professionals in the UK. Only then can you start practicing, either under supervision in a private setting, or, if you want to work in a hospital, after additional practical training.

A portrait of a dentist with his team working in the background

Becoming established

Most dentists are self-employed and carry out both NHS and private work. Many dentists go onto specialise in cosmetic dentistry, orthodontics, or become a maxillo-facial surgeon. There’s also the opportunity to specialise in a particular sector, such as the armed forces, the prison service, corporate bodies, industry or an academic role.

Throughout their career, it’s essential that every dentist keeps up to date with the latest innovations and developments in the discipline, so ongoing education and training to learn new treatments, technology and techniques are essential. In return, you can expect good pay. The average annual salary of a UK dentist ranges from £76,000 to £84,000, although cosmetic dentists can earn much more. If you’re considering a career change into Dentistry and want to discover what opportunities are out there, start your dentist job search on Zoek.

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