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Dental nurse career guide

If you thrive in a supportive role and have an active interest in oral hygiene, then a career as a dental nurse could be your calling.

Safeera Sarjoo
22nd April 2016
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What is a dental nurse?

Dental nurses provide valuable support to dentists and are important to ensure the running of any dental practice.

A love of science and an interest in oral health are obvious factors when taking up this particular career route.  Whether it’s providing assistance during a tricky procedure, maintaining the comfort of a patient to preparing the surgery, dental nurses are often the first and last people to see patients and have a responsibility to keep them at ease and provide a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Aside from dental surgeries, dental nurses may also work within a hospital or even in the armed forces.

What are their responsibilities?


Dental nurses perform a variety of tasks during and outside of dental procedure times. These include:

  • Sterilising dental equipment and making sure equipment is available
  • Sterilising the practice surgery and ensuring  everything is in order
  • Gathering patients records, case history and x-rays
  • Recording information about each case
  • Ensuring dentist has everything they need for the duration of the appointment
  • Carrying out stock control

When working with patients during surgery dental nurses will be expected to:

  • Passing instruments to the dentist
  • Removing saliva and water from the patient’s mouth during their treatment
  • Preparing materials, mixing dental fillings and moulds
  • Ensuring the patient is relaxed, comfortable and happy throughout their appointment

What characteristics and skills suit this role?

It is well known that some people are incredibly nervous and scared of going to the dentist for a number of reasons. They may be out of their comfort zone or dislike the sound of the equipment. Either way, as a dental nurse you have to be mindful of all of this and therefore it requires someone who holds the following skills and characteristics:

  • A calm and reassuring manner
  • Polite, welcoming and friendly persona
  • A real interest in the wellbeing and welfare of patients
  • Good eyesight, especially when assisting in procedures
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Excellent organisation
  • A team player as you will be assuming a supportive role

Entry requirements and Training

There are a couple of ways into this profession. You can either start as a trainee within a dental practice and gain experience and training on the job. Alternatively you can take a full-time college courses in dental nursing. It is worth noting that in both cases you would need to study for a qualification accredited by the General Dental Council and register with them too

Some of these courses include:

  • A national certificate in dental nursing
  • NVQ level 3 in Dental Nursing
  • A VRQ level 3 in Dental Nursing
  • A certificate of higher learning in Dental Nursing

If you opt to train on the job then you will need to have a good general standard of education such as GCSEs (grades A – C) including English, maths and/or science. Through this route you would work towards a diploma.

Training would last between 12 and 18 months and cover areas such as providing chairside support during treatments, oral disease and prevention and emergency first aid.

Study is done through a combination of theory and practical work on both full time and on the job training routes.

In order to keep your knowledge and skills up to date and keep your registration, you would be expected to do a minimum of 150 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) over a fiove year period. You can take up a number of workshops that are run by the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN). These include:

  • Oral health education
  • Dental sedation nursing
  • Orthodontic nursing

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