Dentists aren’t just those people in white coats you dread going to visit. They give treatment to soldiers fighting in the army, research oral health at universities and even work for big corporations.
If you’re very driven and want a respected position in society, where you can expect to earn a very good salary, dentistry could be for you.
In this article we’ll fill you in on how to become a dentist and answer these questions:
- What does a dentist do?
- What skills would you need to become a dentist?
- How much does a dentist earn?
- How long does it take to become a dentist?
- What qualifications do I need to be a dentist?
What does a dentist do?
Dentists treat teeth and mouth problems. They promote oral health and aim to prevent dental disease. Here are a handful of tasks that a dentist could find be doing on a day-to-day basis:
- Keep carefully detailed records for patients.
- Tell patients how to look after their own teeth.
- Carry out a number of different treatments and techniques, such as fillings, pulling teeth, fitting dentures, whitening teeth, taking X-rays and giving anaesthetic.
- Refer patients to a dental hygienist or dental therapist.
- Dentists who run their own practices also have to manage a team of staff that includes dental nurses and receptionists.
Most dentists are self-employed and provide dental care to the general public, known as general dentist practitioners. This could be through the NHS or via a private practice (or both, where you’d have both paying and NHS patients).
There are other options for dentists though – for instance some work in hospitals, doing specialised work like mouth surgery and orthodontics (that’s the part of dentistry that corrects teeth and jaws that are positioned wrongly). There are also opportunities to work with children, the elderly and people with special needs.
Some work in the area of dental public health, which means looking at how to improve the dental health of an area or community, rather than treating individual patients.
What skills would you need to become a dentist?
These are the capabilities and qualities required to become a dentist:
- Brilliant communication skills: you need to know how to clearly explain complicated procedures. You should be able to talk to patients of all ages and backgrounds.
- Good eyesight and colour-normal vision.
- Great hand-eye coordination: able to carry out delicate procedures with different instruments.
- Excellent concentration: you’ll need to stay focussed for long periods of time.
- Leadership skills: you’ll need to be able to manage a team of staff and sometimes do administrative tasks.
- People skills: you’re able to put people at ease and make them feel comfortable when they might be nervous. You care about people’s wellbeing and have real compassion and empathy.
- Ambitious and keen to learn: you’ll need to keep up to stay with different methods and theories throughout your career.
How much does a dentist earn?
A dentist’s salary depends on the area they work in. As a guide, dentists take home the following:
- Starter (NHS dental trainee): between £36,000 and £45,750.
- Experienced (NHS dentist): between £38,500 and £82,500.
- Highly experienced (NHS consultant): up to £102,500.
How long does it take to become a dentist?
It takes at least six years to become a dentist – that’s five years at university, then one or two years of supervised practice.
Here's what it's like to be a dental student:
What qualifications do I need to be a dentist?
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to become a dentist and the qualifications you’ll need:
- A-levels: typically you’ll need three As. Biology and chemistry are a safe bet. Physics and maths are helpful.
- University degree: you will need to do a bachelor’s degree in dentistry (that’s a BDS or BChD). The course usually takes five years. You’ll learn in lectures and seminars, as well as developing practical skills. You’ll get the chance to treat patients in hospital and community clinics. Check the Dental Schools Council for info on different approved courses and entry requirements.
- Registration: after you’ve done your degree you have to register with the General Dental Council.
- Training: then you’ll have to do up to two years of postgraduate dental training.
It’s important to know that dentistry is a really popular career path so there is a lot of competition for places on dental degrees.
If you’ve already done a degree in biology, chemistry or biomedicine, you might be able to apply for a shorter four-year dental degree.
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