Don’t believe the Americans; the days of Brits and shocking teeth is a thing of the past. British dentists (also known as dental surgeons) are some of the most highly-skilled practitioners in the world and dentistry is a truly exciting profession to get your teeth into.
Dentists truly are the masters of mouth and teeth care, diagnosing and treating the oral diseases and injuries of the great British public.
The most popular area of dentistry is general dental care. These dentists are the GPs of the dentistry world and work in their own practice. Like GPs, general dentists will experience all sorts of dental problems and treat all kinds of patients, from the elderly to young children.
Not only do they carry out complex clinical treatments and diagnoses, but they also educate patients about dental care too. General dentists will run a practice, recruiting, training and managing staff whilst also having a hand in the promoting of the practice.
A different kettle of fish is the hospital dentist. These guys deal with more difficult, rare or severe dental cases. Hospitals, and a few specialised practices, are also the stomping ground of specialised dentists, such as orthodontists, dental surgeons and maxillofacial prosthetists (responsible for helping people in need of facial reconstruction surgery).
There are also dentists working in the army and dental officers working in the community to provide dental care to vulnerable children and adults.
Salary & benefits
Dentists can earn a lot. All those years spent training really pay off as salaries start at around £29,000 for those straight out of university. Most NHS dentists earn between £60,000 and £110,000, while those working at NHS trust hospitals can earn between £74,000 and £176,000+ at a consultant level.
Salaries can be even higher in private dentist practices. Those looking to work in community dental care might receive lower earnings of between £37,000 and £79,000 a year.
Most dentists are self-employed contractors and might take on a mixture of NHS and private patients.
As a result, they can arrange their own working hours, but might work evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients.
Dentists who work in hospitals are employed on a short-term contract basis and have more irregular hours.
So you want to be a dentist? You can’t just grab a pair of pliers from your dad’s tool box and start yanking people’s teeth out. You’ll need good biology and chemistry A-Level grades to get a place on an approved dentistry degree course.
Competition is fierce for dentistry courses as there are only 16 dental schools in the UK, so relevant work experience might help bolster your application.
Those without science A-Levels can apply for courses with a pre-dental year to get them up to speed. Three dental schools offer graduate entry courses for those with a 2:1 in a science-based subject or, sometimes, good A-Level grades in science subjects.
To be a dentist, you’ll need a steady hand for all those tricky dental operations, the commitment to train and study hard, great communication skills and good managerial abilities. Moreover, you’ll need to be a dab hand at using technology.
Training & progression
Training is an incredibly lengthy and demanding process. Dental courses typically last five years and, after qualifying, dentists will need to register with the General Dental Council (GDC).
After graduating, most dentists undertake a year of vocational training (VT, if you like your acronyms) as a Vocational Dental Practitioner (VDP). After this, dentists will either join a practice as an associate or an assistant.
Those looking to go down the hospital route might need to take an additional year of foundation training after the VT. Dentists might also enrol on specialism courses in areas such as implant dentistry, orthodontics or aesthetic dentistry.
In terms of career progression, dentists might look to become partners of practices, hospital consultants or, eventually, set up and run their own practices.
Hospital dentists have to gain relevant postgraduate qualifications if they want to climb the career ladder and gain senior posts in specialisms such as orthodontics, paediatric dentistry or oral surgery.