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  • 31 July 2018
  • 28 min read

How to qualify for and find a job as a dentist

  • Dr Natasha Verma
    Dental Practitioner

Are you considering a career in Dentistry? Dr Natasha Verma explains the qualification process, how to write a great CV, and how to secure the job.

Dentistry is a highly skilled profession that takes years of determination, money, and work experience to even qualify.In the guide below, Dr Natasha Verma discusses the options available in order to change your dream of working as a Dentist, to a reality.

First Steps

The first step is ensuring that this is the career for you. It is a long journey and confirming this at an early stage will save you a lot of time, effort and money! Work experience within general dental practice and dental hospitals, will help with this as it will provide you with a true insight into this profession.

Applying For A Position To Study Dentistry

Now you are required to choose the dental schools in which you would like to study.

I can advise you of the current application process within the UK, however if you are interested in applying abroad, then please contact the appropriate body for advice. You are permitted to choose four dental schools on your application, so it is important that you choose carefully.

From experience, teaching style is the most important factor.

There are two styles:

1. Theory-based learning (teacher-led lectures and seminars)

2. Problem-based learning (student-led group interaction seminars and practical sessions).

Everyone has their own studying and learning methods and believe this choice can affect your enthusiasm for this subject, and your passion for your career.

The teaching styles are explained on the websites of each dental school, so I encourage you to ensure that you understand the structure of the programme entry outlined on the website, you will also find the entry criteria for each school.

Most schools specify A-level results of AAA in subjects that must include Biology and Chemistry.

Several dental schools will also request suitable completion of the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) which is an online test designed to test cognitive abilities, attitudes, critical thinking and logical reasoning.

Your application will be made via UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), and if you are successful, you may be invited for an interview at one or more of your chosen universities.

At this stage, I would encourage you to thoroughly research the dental schools, current dental affairs, know you CV and the reason why you want to study dentistry.

Ideally, your responses should inform the interviewers how your acceptance will contribute to that education centre and how willing you are to learn and progress with the institute.

Following a successful interview, you will be offered a conditional or unconditional offer. A conditional offer will outline the required A-level grades that you are required to achieve to gain the undergraduate place.

An unconditional offer means that you will be provided a place regardless of the grades achieved.

Should you be unsuccessful and are not offered a place, I would suggest you request feedback. The feedback may require you to repeat your year to improve your grades and then re-apply.

Alternatively, you could sit your A-levels and upon receiving good grades, gain a place via clearing.

Clearing is a system for universities that have available spaces on the course. These spaces may be available due to candidates not achieving the conditional grades or purely because the candidates have changed their mind about taking that place.

There is a lot of competition during clearing so as soon as you receive your results, it is vital that you start the clearing process immediately. Should you decide not to persevere with dentistry, then you could enter through clearing for another course where your grades would be accepted.

In this situation, it would be a good idea to have several career options in mind.

Completing Your Degree

The introduction to your degree isn’t a lecture hall, it’s a GP office, as your learning will be based on certain health criteria such as satisfactory evidence of immunisation against Hepatitis B and non-infectivity for Hepatitis B and C.

Your GP will be able to make these arrangements for you upon request from the University.

For the next 5-6 years, you will not be a normal undergraduate student.

Unlike other degrees, dental programmes are scheduled according to work hours.

The first few years will be centred around theory with little exposure to practical work.

The latter years will be clinical as you will be working from 9am – 5pm treating your own patients.

You are responsible for liaising with the clinical team and your patients, the patient’s well-being and your professionalism.

If you do not attend the clinics, you do not gain the clinical skills required and as a result, may not be allowed to qualify or may be a very un-experienced dental professional putting yourself and your patients in an incredibly un-safe environment.

This can be a lot of pressure for an undergraduate student, and there are not many degrees that carry this weight of responsibility.

You will also have less holidays in between term times compared to your colleagues.

During the degree, you will be exposed to multiple dental specialities and I encourage you to use this platform to search for the dentist within you.

You will be provided the knowledge and experience to further yourself within the basics of each field, however, it is up to you to self- reflect.

Reflect upon your capabilities and limitations, your preferences of specialities, your comfort zone and how to push yourself.

In my opinion, the dental hospital teaching facilities are a bubble that cushions you along your training journey.

As an undergraduate clinical teacher, I do not feel that this environment truly prepares the student for the 'real world', however, it is the best environment that can be created for students to establish themselves and maintain and replicate the high standards of care within the 'real world'.

Changing Career

If you've already completed a degree and subsequently decided you'd like to be a dentist, you may have one option.

As long as your degree is in a bio-medical area, then this is very possible!

Rather than a 'conversion' degree course, a graduate entry degree course is the one for you.

This takes just 4 years, rather than 5.

Skills and Qualities

As a dentist, there are certain qualities that will make your day-to-day work easier, therefore I would encourage you to improve these skills during your training.

Communication, one of the essential skills required, forms the basis of understanding your patient’s requirements, consent for the treatment and the development of a professional relationship.

Approachable and empathetic inter-personal skills alongside team-working and leadership abilities will ensure that your team and practice can function efficiently, maintaining high quality and standards of care for your patients.

These skills and your clinical abilities, record-keeping and organisation will improve with time.

Having a mentor in the practice is ideal from a progression perspective and to provide second opinions when reassuring patients.

Often the principal of the practice is willing to take this role upon request.

Health Risks

There are a surprisingly high number of health concerns associated with this role:

• Infectious hazards such as risks of needle-stick injuries and exposing yourself to sharp tools that have been used in patients with infectious diseases• Psychological hazards such as stress

• Allergic reactions from dental materials, detergents and chemicals. I developed an allergy to latex three years post-qualification, which is quite a common occurrence

• Physical hazards, which would include more commonly postural concerns resulting in, back, neck and shoulder injuries

• Mercury health hazards would primarily affect those working within an NHS practice regularly placing amalgam (silver) restorations. High mercury vapour high dose exposure can lead to biological and neurological insults

• Ionising radiation because of regular x-rays taken within the surgery

• Daily exposure to common colds, coughs and the fluSupport

A career in dentistry can be physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging and it is my belief that appropriate management and delegation will control the effect of any over-whelming factors.

In times of distress, your colleagues can provide a lot of support and will become your professional family.

In addition, you can share the success stories such as when you and the team help a patient overcome their anxieties, treat an appreciative patient, complete a complex treatment plan, and improve the aesthetics, thus confidence of a patient.

It is on these occasions that it all feels worth the effort.

Working Within NHS General Dental Practice

Working within hospital will be like your dental training and you will be employed by an NHS trust on a fixed salary.

In a dental practice, you are self-employed, therefore you are responsible for submitting your tax claims annually.

To work for the NHS, you are required to complete a Vocational year or Foundation Training year.

Your dental school will advise you on applications for this process.

I valued this year so much as I gained a lot of knowledge and experience under the guidance of my senior colleagues, enabling me to work unsupervised with a lot more confidence.

As an NHS practitioner, you are required to abide by the NHS system.

Currently the system which was reformed in 2006, is that of UDAs (units of dental activity).

This system requires you to achieve a target of UDAs on an annual basis.

• 1 UDA is equivalent to a dental examination

• 3 UDAs are equivalent to one or more fillings, root canal treatments and extractions

• 12 UDAs equate to laboratory work such as crowns, bridges and dentures. The NHS gives each practice a set number of UDAs and funds annually, and the practice distributes the UDAs to each dental practitioner appropriately.

You will be paid per UDA monthly and the value and number of UDAs will be outlined to you by the practice before commencing a position.

It is your responsibility to complete the UDAs that you have contractually agreed to, and a good clinic manager will monitor your progress throughout the year.

There can be consequences for not meeting or going over your UDA target, however I would advise that this is discussed with your practice when agreeing contractual terms.

My advice regarding the UDA system is that organisation and keeping informed and updated of your status is vital.

Your salary is determined by the number of patients you treat and the value of each UDA.

The current system is criticised for multiple reasons and some dental professionals feel that the flaws within the current system reflect compromised clinical care.

This system can result in under-treatment and focus on targets that are biased towards quantity rather than quality.

Dentists have been found to claim that the continuous limitations and compromises hamper their work and make it impossible to deliver the high standards to the UK population promised by the Government.

Reformed Schemes

There have been steps taken towards a reformed contract and pilot schemes commenced in 2011.

These pilots focused on capitation and quality along a preventative care pathway.

The objective of the new system is to emphasise prevention and necessary treatment, whereby professionals can retain viable business models and maintain good patient access.

This is yet to be implemented and can be a hot topic within admission interviews.

The Government has made movements to improve patient access by means of direct access.

This allows a patient to see a hygienist without having to see a dentist first, encouraging maintenance of good oral health.

Dental therapists are also involved in this change, as dentists can delegate basic treatments and as a result becoming available for patients that require more complex treatment.

Private general dental practice works on a fee per item system and can result in more clinical freedom as there are less restrictions on the funds available to invest in materials and equipment.

Dentistry Requirements

You are required to abide by certain criteria outlined by the General Dental Council (GDC) to use your dental qualification within the UK, and there are considerable costs associated with this.

These criteria include:

• General Dental Council registration, which requires renewal annually. To be registered with the GDC you are required to prove that you have the appropriate number of hours that contribute to your Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

• Indemnity (dental insurance that covers your work). To be indemnified, you must be on the GDC register. Other deductions from your salary include laboratory fees if you are working in dental practice, pension contributions and memberships fees for societies.

Career Development and CPD Self-reflection is essential with regards to good practice and progression of your career.

Your ability to determine your strengths and weaknesses will help you understand the requirements of further training.

There are numerous short courses of many types to improve your management, team working, communication and clinical skills.

The usual route to becoming a specialist is by applying for a specialist registrar position and then training within a field.

Successful completion of a set of exams will determine if you will be working as a Consultant or a specialist in practice.

I would advise you to speak to Consultants during your dental training should you have an interest in a field.

Despite the obvious pathways of working within hospital or practice as a general practitioner or specialist, there are numerous other fields where a dental qualification can lead you.

Examples include, healthcare consulting, dental law, teaching, research and many more.

After my Degree

Upon completing my degree, I gained experience as a Senior house officee within Oral and Maxillo-facial surgery for several years.

This role involved on-call rotas, surgical and non-surgical treatments and emergency care shifts.

Many professionals working within this field proceed to complete a medical degree, become a registrar and eventually an Oral and Maxillo-facial Surgery Consultant.

I worked in various environments over the years and I eventually found my calling by developing an interest in non-surgical options, and I am now pursuing a career in Aesthetic Medicine and commencing a Masters programme later in the year.

I have merely touched upon a small number of positions and I strongly advise that you investigate your options. COPDEND (UK Committee of Postgraduate Dental Deans and Directors) Career planning for doctors and dentists are good organisations to help you start your research.

Next Steps

• Apply for work experience

• Gain guidance and advice from your career councillor

• Attend university open days and speak to current students

• Explore dental websites such as that of GDC and BDA (British Dental Association)

• Read British Dental Journal articles.

CV Fundamentals

Have You Checked Your Contact Details?

Names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses. Are you sure they're all correct?

Ensure they’re right-aligned at the top of the CV.

Are your email address and voice-mail message work-appropriate? If you're using a current work address and have handed in your notice, are you sure you'll still be able to check it when people start to contact you?

The best thing to do is use a free service like Gmail or similar.

Make your handle your name and, if you're having trouble finding one because your name is too common, add a middle initial or similar.

Is It Eye-catching?

CVs are are formal documents designed to persuade someone to give you tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds in return for your skills.

White paper, simple and readable fonts of around 10 or 12-point (without fancy effects, italicization or inappropriately-bold words) and a margin of around an inch or an inch and a half.

Don't add your picture, don't add clip-art and don't be too colourful.

Basic CV

> Personal Statements

There are pros and cons for including a personal statement and ultimately, it's a matter of personal preference and of your ability to write well.

You need to be able to avoid trite phrases and utilise your experiences meaningfully.

For you, a personal statement may be a waste of space better used to discuss valuable roles and placements.

However, personal statements can be useful when you have specific skills to communicate clearly and precisely.

If you have especially pertinent 'hard skills’, here would be a good place to put them.

As we all know, employers and HR departments have so many CVs to consider that they don't spend a great deal of time looking at individual ones.

Any key words you've gleaned from the job description (especially those relating to specific skills) will do well if highlighted in a personal statement.

> Qualifications

By the time you're professionally qualified to this level, there's no need for your GCSEs, A Levels or equivalents to be included.Instead, list the details for your undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in reverse chronological order; where you studied, when, qualification gained (or to be gained) and mark received (or predicted mark).

> Job History

Don't panic if you're a dental student and applying for your first job; there's still plenty to write.

Call it professional experience and list your relevant placements in reverse chronological order.

For conventional jobs, employers need names, start and end dates, job titles and your duties.

Keep descriptions short, simple and information-laden.

> Professional Membership

As a dentist in the UK, you will of course be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). You may also be part of other professional bodies that relate to your specialism or particular interests.

> Skills

Bullet-points are very useful here to keep it readable. Hard skills first as these make you eminently employable.

Soft skills are welcome but shouldn't be your main focus. Remember, specific and demonstrable!

> Interests And References

In a high-pressured job such as dentistry, adding a couple of outside interests can demonstrate that you maintain a sensible work/life balance.

Interviewing Well

The Journey... Even if you've made the journey a trillion times, just check once more.

You may know the way there and you may know how long it takes, but you don't know if there have been any public transport cancellations or if there's an unexpected carnival or protest scheduled.

If you're driving, use the day before to make sure the tank's full. Should there be a swathe of other drivers or a broken pump, filling up en route could easily eat into your travel time and make you late.

Your Outfit

Think about this a week or so ahead if you can. Do you need to get any dry-cleaning done? Or, upon retrieval from the back of the wardrobe, you could find your formal winter coat actually needs some mending.

Lay out the main items the night before, have your shower and so on.Similarly, if you think you need a haircut, give yourself a few days for it to 'settle in'.

Are you one of those people who always hate your new cut to start with?

Don't damage your self-esteem by getting it done the day before interview.


This is a good way to make sure you haven't any niggling traits that will let you down.

There are three big ones that won't look good; framing everything negatively, failing to make eye contact, and fiddling.

Negativity is a sure-fire way to turn off your new employers.

Role-play will be a good way to catch this before it gets to the crucial stage.

Eye contact and fiddling can also be hard to self-correct as you may not realise you're doing it.

You don't have to aim for 100% eye contact, but you should at least start and finish every statement with eye contact, allowing yourself a bit of looking away as you think. For fiddling, my personal strategy is to discreetly sit on my hands. Others like to fold their hands in their lap.

Check Competency Testing

Hopefully, they will have let you know, but don't be shy of double-checking. If they did specify testing, you should be able to find out the form of test, even if they don't want to give out too much information.

Should it be a psychometric test, don't panic. You're either right for the job or not and it isn't the sort of test you can 'trick'.

Whatever happens in a psychometric test, happens!

Speak Succinctly

Ensure you can summarise yourself with a few simple but impressive and information-laden sentences.

It sounds simple and perhaps not something you would have to practice, but it's amazing how 'umms' and 'aahs' can sneak into the most confident person's descriptions.

Identify the things that are most important to mention and have a little practice.

Likely, your sentence structure is something you can leave to flow on the day, but make sure you're clear about what you want to include.

Job Summaries

You need a neat précis of each relevant job or placement so you can talk swiftly and usefully about what it was and how it supports your application.

It's a good idea to have a think about the less-relevant ones too, just in case you find it would help to talk about them.

This ensures you sound good but is also very important for ensuring you know your CV inside-out.

Your Weaknesses

Answering this well can be difficult but the key lies in your preparation. Identify your main weakness and reframe it.

Always late? This used to be a weakness but now you get up earlier and exercise to wake yourself up and prepare for the day.

Curt with customers? It's because you're focusing so hard on the job but you've learnt to automatically ask people how they are before you start the appointment's work, making everyone in the room more comfortable.

Take your problem and make it sound good.

Skills, Knowledge, and Experience

Do this well and it will improve every interview you go to from here on.

Sit down with paper, pen and a nice drink and get to know yourself.

What are the key features you can offer to an employer?

The skills you most need to pinpoint are your hard skills – what can you actually do?

Knowledge relates to your qualifications, placements and CPD – what do you know and understand?

Abilities are examples of when you used your skills and knowledge properly. Finally, experiences are the times and places your abilities came into play.

Get these all laid out, clear and memorised and your interviews will be much easier!

Dentistry is a remunerating and gratifying field and given the challenges that dentistry is facing, I believe an undergraduate dental degree should be the first step to your dental career.

At each stage of your journey, my advice would be to enquire and investigate as to what you want from your profession and where you want it to take you.

You are investing money, effort and several years to this decision, so the research you do will prove invaluable.

Natasha has also written this blog

Working as a dental practitioner

About the author

  • Dr Natasha Verma
    Dental Practitioner

I’m currently working within an Oral Surgery department, where I thoroughly enjoy the skilled work and complex cases. I’m also a Clinical Teacher in Guy’s Hospital, Kings College, London. I am also venturing into Medical Aesthetics.

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