60 Second Interview: Dental nurse

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dental surgery

Ashleigh is a dental nurse - because she always knew she wanted to have a hands-on job and make a difference in people's lives. She tells us what's involved in her job, why she loves working as part of a team, and what she finds challenging.

Ashleigh Richard

Ashleigh winning dental nurse of the year

Company: {my}dentist

Industry: Medicine & Healthcare

What is your job? Dental nurse / treatment coordinator

How long have you been doing this job? 5 years


National Vocational Qualification Level 3 in Dental Nursing – City & Guilds (see below for further qualifications)

1. What was your very first job?

Dental nursing is my first job.

2. What did you want to do when you were at school?

I knew from a very young age, while I was at school, that I wanted to work with people. I wanted hands-on experience and I wanted to make a difference to people’s lives.

I wasn’t sure in what aspect I wanted to do this but knew I wanted a rewarding career with the option for continuous progression — challenging, but most importantly surrounded by people.

3. What made you want to do your current job?

A position for a trainee dental nurse became available at an orthodontic/private general dental practice in St Ives. This at the time was where I was undergoing treatment myself. I found it fascinating as a patient and considered the role.

After researching the role extensively, it became clear that being a dental nurse is exactly what I was looking for. What better way than being part of transforming people’s smiles? It’s an important part of people’s personalities and self-esteem.

So I completed my first year in Sixth Form, applied for the trainee dental nurse position and haven’t looked back since.

4. How did you get there?

I have been in this role for five years now. I have loved every second since day one! It has been hard working six days a week, whilst completing a certificate in dental nursing. It has meant learning on the job. I found this to be difficult and challenging, but thrived in this environment.

I was very fortunate as a trainee to be trained in a practice with a highly skilled dentist and orthodontist. I got to witness amazing transformations and my knowledge and experience built every day. The experience I got as a trainee built my basic knowledge of the field considerably and allowed me to progress easily through all my future courses.

I first completed my Certificate in Dental Nursing with City & Guilds. Once completed I was eligible to be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC) and attempt further experiences and courses.

I started as a trainee dental nurse in November 2011, since then I have completed:

  • Level 3 NVQ – City & Guilds
  • National Certificate in Orthodontic Dental Nursing
  • National certificate in Impression Taking, including denture excellence impression course to allow me to do first and second stage of dentures under prescription and dental appliances, including nightguards, orthodontic appliances and whitening trays
  • IOTN and ICON certificate with Cardiff University
  • PAR Calibration certificate and training with Cardiff University
  • Implant and Oral Surgery training, assisting and mentoring
  • Endodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Minor Oral Surgery
  • Cosmetic dentistry including all orthodontic and prosthetic appliances
  • Extensive first aid training with the St John Ambulance service
  • I’m currently doing my National Certificate in Radiography with the NEBDN. Examination was taken 10.03.2017 and awaiting results
  • Attending the Zoom Whitneing training to support clinicians and patients
  • I am due to start my Certificate in Fluoride Application and Oral Health end of March 2017.

I have been lucky to have the role of Treatment Coordinator along with being a nurse; that allows me to keep communication going between dentists. Being a treatment coordinator also allows me to be at the forefront of patient choice, making sure every patient is given every available option.

5. What is a typical day like?

I usually get to the practice at 8am to prepare paperwork for the day, check medical bags and equipment.

I also use this time to set up my surgery and answer emails. I prepare letters and templates for correspondence to our referring dentists to update them on patients being seen at the practice.

During the day my main responsibilities as a dental nurse and treatment coordinator include:

  • Escort the patients to and from the surgery.
  • Prepare for treatments with instruments and materials.
  • Clean and sterilise all instruments and equipment.
  • Maintain the maintenance of the surgery equipment.
  • Ensure all laboratory work and paperwork is ready for each patient.
  • Arrange collections and deliveries of laboratory work for patients.
  • Assist the dentist throughout each procedure for each patient.
  • Keep the patient calm and reassure them.
  • Assist in reception duties when required.
  • Maintain a high level of confidentiality throughout each patient visit.

The last patient is usually out of the door by 17:30. I then tidy up the surgery and prepare for the next day.

6. What's the best thing about your job?

The team I work with. Dentistry relies on a good team, from reception staff to nurses, from to dentists to management. We also build strong and lasting relationships. Because we spend nine hours a day with each other, we get to know each other very well and they have become a second family to me.

7. What is the most challenging thing about your job?

Patient demand and the stress of time constraints within NHS dentistry. The demand for NHS treatment is immense and sometimes it feels like there are just not enough hours in the day. Most days we are double-booked with at least 2 emergency patients. This is on top of the amount we already have to see and on reduced appointment times.

The NHS has become strict on times we are allowed to see patients, to allow us to accommodate the demand. We have to see certain emergencies in the day, even if it means not getting our breaks, or not leaving on time.

8. What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Do your research. Make sure that this is a field you want to enter. Make sure you can handle blood, bodily fluid and most importantly a wide range of smells. Also, being a dental nurse means you spend 90% of your time on your feet.

The reason I was mostly sure that being a dental nurse is what I wanted to do, is because I saw it from a patient perspective, did extensive research on the subject and arranged a trial day with the dental practice to observe and see what the everyday work looks like. This is essential.

My job is an apprenticeship, which means learning on the job. It also means that all coursework and studies are done at home. The three bits of advice I would give to potential apprentices are:

  1. Prepare before you start. Start reading information and roles of a dental nurse and the criteria you are going to cover. You are usually put straight into surgery and this will help you pick up the basics. You might not necessarily understand what you are reading but when you are expected to use it on your first attempt it will make it easier.
  2. Complete the work as soon as you can and as soon as you are given it. A lot of nurses let the work pile up and it becomes near enough impossible to catch up. Time management is an imperative quality to have as a nurse.
  3. If you get behind on coursework or are unsure of anything you need to know, ask! You are more likely to get an accurate answer asking your dentist or surrounding nurses than trying to figure it out yourself. You are also less likely to pick up bad habits which could get you into trouble at later dates.

9. What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?

I don’t think anyone can be prepared for a role of a dental nurse. No two days are the same and no patient is the same.

This role is extremely rewarding if you put effort into it. It’s not a 9-5 job and can be mentally straining. You have to be patient and kind and have the ability to withstand confrontation.

Dentistry is not a much-liked profession amongst patients and this can be reflected badly by a patient to the dental staff, not always on purpose. However, it is the most rewarding job. You see patients come in with a phobia, you get them through the experience and they are a lot better off for it.

10. Where would you like to be in five years?

I would like to be an Orthodontic Therapist. Orthodontics has always been my passion and I would love to be involved in that every day, all day. I am working my way up the ladder in hopes that an opportunity will arise to train in orthodontic therapy.

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