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A Guide To Becoming A Dentist
A career in dentistry can be highly rewarding for many people, offering the prospect of working closely with people and caring for others, flexible work hours, the opportunity for self employment, and a competitive salary. Becoming a qualified dentist is however very challenging and competition for places at dental schools is fierce. It requires a lot of hard work, a lengthy period of studying, and a dedication to learning.Before you embark upon this career path, you’ll need to think carefully about whether you want to commit to becoming a dentist. After your A-Levels you’ll be required to study for at least 6 years in total, and will have to work hard to develop all the skills necessary to register as a qualified dentist.
How To Decide If Dentistry Is For You?
Do you have the skills and the passion necessary to become a dentist? If you’re not sure, then take a look at the following skills and attributes.
They’re all important aspects of a career in dentistry. If you answer yes to all or most of the following questions, then strongly consider a job as a dentist.
• Do you enjoy science, like learning about human anatomy, and have a strong medical profession? A career in dentistry is like any other medical career, with a strong focus in science (both biology and chemistry), the human body, oral disease, and oral processes. You’ll need to be comfortable learning and dealing with this subject matter.
• Can you commit to a long period of academic study?
Becoming a dentist takes over 6 years of dedicated studying. You’ll need to enjoy being in an academic environment and excel at learning in order to qualify.
• Are you good with your hands, and have excellent hand-eye coordination skills?
A great degree of manually dexterity is required to be a competent dentist, as you’ll be completing intricate work in the mouths of patients, using small instruments to carry out delicate treatments. These require pinpoint accuracy and a steady hand.
• Do you have good eyesight?
Since you’ll be spending a lot of time looking into patients’ mouths, you’ll need to have good eyesight and colour vision.
• Can you concentrate for long periods of time?
Many procedures can take a number of hours to complete, so you’ll need to be able to concentrate for a sustained period of time, whilst maintaining good control of your hands.
• Are you squeamish?
Like any other medical profession, there can be a fair share of squeamish moments. Oral health care involves dealing with disease, missing teeth, and blood, and isn’t for the faint hearted.
• Do you like working in a team?
A lot of dentistry work involves a team effort, so you should enjoy working with a diverse selection of individuals, each with varying degrees of skill and academic backgrounds. You’ll have strong interpersonal skills and be good at working as part of a larger organisation.
• Would you like to be self-employed?
Whilst teamwork is integral, you’ll also have a desire to work on your own and potentially set up your own practice. If you want to control your own hours and work in your own business, dentistry is a good route to take.
• Would you say you have strong leadership skills?
If you do want to run your own practice, you’ll need to lead a team around you. From receptionists to dental hygienists, you’ll be responsible for the day to day running of the business and should be competent at managing and leading those around you.
• Do you enjoy teaching?
Education is a big part of dentistry. You’ll need to have strong communication skills, and enjoy teaching and instructing patients of all age groups about the importance of oral health and how to look after their teeth effectively.
• Do you want to help people?
Above all, you should have a passion for caring and the welfare of others. You’ll have good people skills and a desire to build relationships with your patients. You’ll look forward to helping others in any way you can,putting patients at ease, discussing concerns with them, and solving their problems.
How To Start A Career in Dentistry
Once you’ve decided that you do have a passion for the profession, and know that becoming a dentist is something you want to commit to, you’ll need to focus on how to get there.
• Start off at A-Level
Thinking about what kinds of A-Levels you should take to become a dentist is a great place to begin. It’s an essential requirement for most dentistry schools that you have a biology and chemistry A-Level.A number of universities will also look for A-Levels in maths and physics as well. They’re not as vital as biology and chemistry, but it will be a bonus if you have them, keeping your options of universities as wide open as possible.
• Work hard to get the best grades
Universities offering dentistry courses typically require at least 360 UCAS points, so you’ll need to focus on your A-levels to get the best results possible.Competition is quite high for places, with between 10-20% of applicants receiving offers to come and study dentistry, so you’ll need to stand out from the crowd.
• Apply to university and study for 5 years Look at the universities which offer dentistry courses and decide which one is best for you. Some have additional entry requirements, which may include taking a UKCAT (the UK Clinical Aptitude Test).
The degree is five years long, and will focus on theoretical learning and then practical training. You’ll study topics around health, biology and behavioural sciences, as well as developing clinical skills in all disciplines.You’ll leave dentistry school with either a BDS or BChD bachelors degree qualification.
• Alternative routes
If you have recently discovered a passion for dentistry but haven’t taken the right A-Levels, then you don’t necessarily need to take any more. A pre-dental year is available at some universities for those students who don’t have the necessary scientific background.And if you have already completed a degree, but now decided that dentistry is the profession for you, you may be able to convert to a relevant course. If you have a 2:1 or higher degree, which has a large focus in biology or chemistry, you could be eligible for an accelerated four year degree course.
• After your degree
Once you’ve completed your degree, you’ll still have a further year of vocational training before you can register with the General Dental Council as a qualified professional. This is known as Dental Foundation Training (DFT).You’ll gain hands-on experience in a dental practice, working under the supervision of qualified dentists and attending demonstrations at dental hospitals.After twelve months, you’ll generally join a practice as a dental associate or assistant dentist.If you wish to move into a more specialist field like oral medicine or orthodontics, you’ll need to undertake further training.
How To Improve Your Chances of Becoming A Dentist
Work experience is often a vital part of some university applications. For others it’s highly beneficial.Because competition for places is fierce, the vast majority of dental schools will take a keen interest in learning about any experience you’ve had in a dental or healthcare environment.Universities are looking for evidence that you have thought long and hard about a career in dentistry, and are serious about committing to the course and the profession. They want to know that you’ve shadowed dentists, spent time in practices, and got as much experience as possible about life and work in a dental surgery.The greater the variety of experience, in a range of different settings, the better your chances of earning a place.But just as places for courses are competitive, so too are work placement opportunities. The following tips can help you secure work experience in variety of settings, and stand you in good stead for subsequent • Apply earlyBegin reaching out to dental surgeries and enquiring about places as early as possible. Some placements have certain requirements you need to meet, so the sooner you are aware of these the better. There might be some practices which won’t accept you until you’re over 18, or have had a Hepatitis B vaccination.
• Contact as many places as possible
The more places you can apply to, the better. You’ll keep your options as wide open as possible and stand a good chance of finding at least one practice which will accept you for work experience.As well as general dental surgeries - both NHS and private - you should consider getting in touch with your local Primary Care Trust, which coordinates community dental services. Local hospitals may also offer you the opportunity to shadow orthodontic procedures and maxillofacial surgery. Experience in a dental laboratory is also beneficial.
• Consider all caring roles
If you can’t find a practice to take you for work experience, then consider other opportunities such as volunteering in nursing or care homes. Any type of experience working as a healthcare professional will be beneficial to your personal statement and application.
• Build relationships
As soon as you develop an interest in dentistry, start building relationships with your own dentist. Ask questions whenever you visit, and explain how you’re interested in becoming a dentist yourself.You might be able to gain work experience in that practice, or your dentist may have colleagues they recommend you speak to.
• Be proactive
A great cover letter showing your passion and an excellent CV are both a necessity, but also consider ringing the practices first and asking about opportunities for placements. You’ll be able to get a direct answer and know exactly who you should address your letter to.Even better, consider visiting practices in person and asking to speak to the practice manager. This will demonstrate your commitment and passion in person, and make you more memorable too.
• Show off other skills
As well as showing an interest in dentistry, your cover letter and CV should also show off other skills you have which could be beneficial in a practice environment.
Organisational, computer skills, financial management, and social media & marketing ideas will all benefit a dental surgery, and help you stand out as valuable asset - even if it is just for a couple of weeks.
• Ask questions and take notes
When you do get a placement, make sure you observe as much as you can, ask as many questions as possible, and always take notes. These will be invaluable when you’re writing your personal statement and attending interviews.
• Ask for more work afterwards If you’ve worked hard, been proactive, and established good relationships during your time in a practice, be sure to ask about other opportunities as you approach the end of your placement.Your dentist may have contacts with other surgeries which could offer you a different type of experience, or may even be able to offer you a part time job in the practice itself.
You should aim to complete at least two weeks of work experience in any kind of dental or healthcare setting. The more diverse settings you can work in (e.g. 1 week in 1 practice, 1 week in another) the more you’ll learn and the greater your chance of securing a place at university.
Other Dentistry Careers To Consider
If becoming a dentist is too competitive or too demanding for you, but you still want a career in the dental industry, there are a number of other options you might wish to pursue. You should still consider the questions above to confirm your passion, and of course, hands-on work experience is a great thing to have.
• Dental Nurse
For those who might not have the academic qualifications to study dentistry at university, becoming a dental nurse can be a great alternative.
If you’re friendly, caring, have a willingness to learn, and have good GCSEs, then you could study to become a qualified dental nurse.
You could secure a position as a trainee dental nurse in a general practice, and study part time for a qualification like the National Diploma in Dental Nursing or an NVQ level 3 in Dental Nursing.Alternatively, you could study full time on a General Dental Council (GDC) approved course at a university.
• Dental Hygienist
If you have five GCSEs (grade A-to-C) and at least two A-Levels, you could apply to a GDC approved dental hygienist course. Or, if you have a recognised dental nursing qualification, you may choose to advance your skills further.Courses to become a qualified dental hygienist are typically offered on a full time basis (as opposed to working and studying part time) and generally last around two years.
• Dental Technician/Technologist
There are a variety of opportunities to become a qualified dental technician or dental technologist, and this may appeal if you have an interest in the building and construction aspect of dentistry.You could study for a BTEC National Diploma in Dental Technology, or if you have A-Levels or equivalent qualifications, you may want to consider applying for a BSc (Hons) degree in Dental Technology.
• Dental Therapist
Oral health practitioners or dental therapists are a little rarer in the dental industry, but still have an important role to play. The position offers the opportunity to carry out extended work beyond that of a dental nurse and hygienist. You’ll need good GCSEs and A-Levels to apply for a course to earn a recognised diploma, or a previous qualification in dental nursing. A few part time study opportunities are available, although most courses are full time and generally last around 27 months.
Written by 32Whites, an emergency and cosmetics dentistry practice in Marple, Cheshire