As a Dentist, you will diagnose, treat and prevent tooth decay and gum disease. You'll give regular 'check-ups', drill, prepare and fill cavities, fit dentures and other devices, scale and polish teeth, remove decayed teeth and advise on oral hygiene. You will also also correct irregularities such as crooked teeth, especially in children.
A large part of your work as a Dentist is to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. You'll see patients for regular 'check-ups' to make sure there are no problems.
You will also educate their patients about oral hygiene, for example, how to brush teeth properly and use dental floss, and the importance of avoiding too much sugar in the diet.
When a patient has a problem, you will first have to make a diagnosis. You'll study notes on the patient's dental history and examine their teeth and mouth, sometimes using X-rays. You will also ask the patient questions to find out what the symptoms are, for example, when and where they feel pain.
Typical routine treatment includes:
- scaling and polishing teeth
- drilling, preparing and filling cavities
- taking out decayed or septic teeth.
You will treat irregular teeth, especially in children, by fitting devices such as braces. You will replace whole or parts of teeth by fitting crowns, bridges and dentures.
Dentists are very much part of a team. Dental nurses will help you during treatment, for example, by passing instruments, taking notes and mixing materials for fillings. You might also instruct or oversee the work of Dental Hygienists and Dental Therapists.
You'll work with devices (such as dentures and bridges) that have been made for them by a Dental Technician.
Most Dentists work as general dental practitioners (GDPs) in what's also known as a 'high street' practice. Most GDPs see a mixture of private and NHS patients.
You might, however, visit patients in their own homes, or in places like schools, day centres and residential care homes.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To be a Dentist, you'll need:
- Communication skills: you must be able to ask questions and explain things clearly.
- A kind, compassionate nature to put nervous patients at their ease.
- To be good with your hands and able to use a variety of tools and equipment.
- Patience and attention to detail.
- Stamina and physical fitness - the work can be tiring.
- An interest and ability in science.
Dentists in general practice need business management and team leadership skills.
Pay and Opportunities
Most Dentists in general practice are self-employed. You'll usually enter as an associate in an established dental practice, eventually buying into an existing practice or setting up their own one. Salaries depend on the type of practice and how successful it is.
Salaried NHS Dentists, for example, in the Salaried Primary Care Dental Service, earn between £38,476 and £82,295 a year.
NHS consultants in dental specialties earn a basic salary of between £76,001 and £102,465.
Hours of work
Most Dentists in general practice, and those who work in the community, work 9:00 am - 5:30 pm, Monday to Friday. You might also work on Saturdays and provide 24-hour emergency cover.
In hospitals, working hours vary depending on your speciality - they might include evening and weekend work.
Where could I work?
Dentists work in general practice, the NHS (in hospitals and the community) and the armed forces. Opportunities for Dentists occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.
Most Dentists are self-employed in general practice, providing care under the NHS or privately. Most dentists offer both NHS and private services.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on the NHS Jobs website, in professional journals, and on specialist and general job boards.
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Dentist, you usually need to complete a five-year degree course in dentistry.
Some universities run dentistry courses with an extra 'pre-dental' year for students who don't have the required science A levels for entry.
A small number of universities run four-year graduate entry courses. To enter, you will usually need a degree (usually at least a 2:1) in a biomedical, science or healthcare professional subject. Entry requirements vary, so please check with the university you're interested in.
Degree courses cover areas such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pathology and dental materials. These are combined with the development of clinical skills in all dental disciplines.
After graduating, you must register with the General Dental Council before you can start work as a Dentist.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You'll need to follow your degree with the Vocational Training/Dental Foundation Programme. This is work-related training in an approved dental practice.
Vocational Training/Foundation Year 1 (DF1) usually takes place in general dental practice. This year is necessary for any UK graduate wishing to work in NHS dentistry.
For most foundation dentists, Foundation Year 2 (DF2) involves 6- or 12-month posts in a hospital or the Salaried Primary Care Dental Service. Some programmes include experience in general primary care. This second year is not essential and is often undertaken by dentists who wish to continue onto a specialist training pathway such as oral surgery.
Following VT or Dental Foundation Training, dentists usually enter a practice as an associate (also known as a 'performer' in the NHS in England and Wales). Associates are usually self-employed; some practices employ assistants. After gaining experience, many associates choose to become practice owners by buying a practice from a retiring dentist or buying into an established practice as a partner.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
This career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.
This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
Previous experience working in a customer service or a customer care position would be really helpful to get into this career.
To enter a degree course in dentistry, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 3 A levels. Chemistry and Biology are usually essential.
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects.
- A further 2/3 GCSEs (A*-C or 9-4), including English, Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology.
Alternatives to separate science GCSEs (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) are:
- Science and Additional Science, or
- Science and Additional Applied Science.
Equivalent qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma, can be acceptable for entry. Please check college/university websites very carefully.
A BTEC Level 3 might also be acceptable for entry. However, some universities will accept these only alongside the specified academic A levels. Again, please check college/university websites carefully.
A few universities offer a pre-dental year for students who don't have the required science A levels. This makes the degree course six years in length, rather than five.
For most dentistry courses, you will need to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT), as well as applying through UCAS. UKCAT is not a test of knowledge but is instead designed to make sure you have the appropriate mental abilities, attitudes and professional behaviour to be a dentist. If you are applying for a university dental school that uses the UKCAT, you should ideally take the test before you apply to the school through UCAS. Please see the UKCAT website for more information.
You'll need to sit a GAMSAT UK test if you're applying for certain four-year graduate-entry dentistry courses. For more information, please see the GAMSAT website.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A-level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications that are usually needed to enter a dentistry degree, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, such as Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter, although you should check this with the course provider.
Some universities offer a pre-dental year for students who don't have the required science A levels. This makes the degree course six years in length rather than five.
Graduates with degrees (minimum grade 2:1) in relevant subjects, for example, life or medical sciences, can enter dental school. Entry with a non-relevant degree subject is possible but usually only with good science A levels or equivalent, including Biology and Chemistry.
A small number of universities run four-year graduate entry courses. To enter, you'll usually need a degree (at least a 2:1) in a biomedical, science or health-related subject. Entry requirements vary, so please check with the university you are interested in.
Non-graduate students are entitled to receive student loans to cover maintenance and tuition fees in the first four years. From year five onwards, tuition fees will be paid by the NHS student bursary scheme, and students can apply for a means-tested NHS bursary to cover maintenance. Students are able to also claim a non-means tested grant of £1,000, as part of the NHS bursary award.
The arrangements for graduate dentistry students on a five-year course are different. Students are not eligible to receive a grant for maintenance or tuition fees over the first four years. However, students can apply for a full maintenance loan, and in year five, graduate dentistry students receive the same funding support as undergraduate medical students.
- 82% of dentists are self-employed.
- 11% work part-time.
- 6% of employees work on a temporary basis.
NHS Wales Careers
Publisher: National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare
Step into the NHS
Tel: 0345 6060655
Skills for Health
Skills for the health sector
Address: Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 9221155
Queen's University Belfast
NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
Address: Westport 102, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DN
Tel: 0131 6563200
British Dental Association (BDA)
Address: 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS
Tel: 020 7935 0875
General Dental Council (GDC)
Address: 37 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 0845 2224141
British Dental Association (BDA) Scotland
Address: Forsyth House, Lomond Court, Castle Business Park, Stirling FK9 4TU
Tel: 01786 476040
Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA)
Northern Ireland Enquiries
Address: Beechill House, 42 Beechill Road, Belfast BT8 7RL
Tel: 028 9040 0000
UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)
Tel: 0161 8557409
Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT)
Tel: 020 3829 5924
UK Committee of Postgraduate Dental Deans and Directors (COPDEND)
Address: The Triangle, Roosevelt Drive, Headington, Oxford OX3 7XP
Tel: 0114 2264437
Getting into Dental School
Author: Adam Cross Publisher: Trotman
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales