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Dentistry is the branch of medicine that looks after the health and development of people’s mouth and teeth.
There are many different careers within the dentistry profession:
A dentist looks after the health of your mouth and teeth, treating and preventing dental and oral problems such as decay and gum disease.
A dental nurse works to assist other members of the dental team by providing support in the surgery – from preparing instruments to taking patient notes.
Dental hygienists prevent oral health problems through the treatments they give, such as polishing teeth and adding protective plastic coating to molars at the back of a patient’s mouth.
Dental technicians custom-make items such as crowns, bridges and dentures for patients. They can help reconstruct faces that may have been damaged by accidents or disease.
Orthodontists specialise in the development of the face, teeth and jaws, with their most common procedures being the straightening of teeth with a brace.
How to get into dentistry
Candidates who wish to become a dentist need to go to dental school to study an undergraduate degree, which lasts five years and will cover theoretical and practical training. The training covers clinical skills, as well as health and biological sciences.
Following completion of the undergraduate qualification, candidates then go onto their postgraduate dental education. They must complete one year’s vocational training (VT) in a dental practice in order to be able to work in a practice.
The candidate will then usually be hired by a practice as an ‘assistant dentist’, i.e. they are employed by a practice that is owned by someone else, or they work in a practice whilst self-employed as an ‘associate’.
Those students who wish to specialise in other areas of dentistry such as orthodontics then go onto further training in a hospital.
For those wishing to become dental nurses, they need to join a practice working as a trainee or student dental nurse. No previous dental training is required, and they will eventually gain qualifications in dental nursing.
To become a dental hygienist, a full time, two-year course must be undertaken at a dental school.
Qualifications and experience
The A-Level grades required to make it into dentistry are high, and usually require biology and chemistry. For those candidates who don’t have science A-Levels, there is still the opportunity to study dentistry by taking a pre-dental year, which will give them the scientific knowledge required for the course.
For dental nursing, no qualifications are usually required, although GCSEs may sometimes be needed for entry.
To train to become a dental hygienist, five GCSEs grade A-C are usually required, alongside either two A-Levels or a dental nursing qualification.
Salary varies widely between the different dental professions. Pay can be high for dentists – it is a well-remunerated profession, with the average salary being £70,000, but it not uncommon for the level to reach £100,000. The average salary for a dental nurse is £17,000.