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Four roles in the dental team – and how to get into them

dental role

There are a number of different roles within the dental team, and each one plays an important part in promoting and maintaining the nation’s dental health. Whether you’re interested in becoming a dental hygienist, dental technician, dental therapist, or a dentist, here’s what you need to know.

1. Dental hygienist

Dental hygienists educate and encourage patients to take care of their teeth and gums and carry out certain treatments and procedures, such as scaling teeth to remove plaque (at times under local anaesthetic), polishing teeth and applying topical fluoride and fissure sealants. Taking X-rays and demonstrating correct brushing and flossing techniques can be part of the job too.

Most hygienists work in general dental practice, others are based in hospitals or in community practice, where they may help people with a wide range of special or additional needs.

To work as a dental hygienist, you will need to register with the General Dental Council (GDC) and take one of their approved courses: a foundation degree in oral health science; a diploma of higher education (DipHE) in dental hygiene or dental hygiene and dental therapy; or a degree in oral health science or dental therapy and dental hygiene. The foundation degree and DipHE courses take two years to complete, while the degree course usually takes three years, full-time.

You can find a list of approved courses and providers on the General Dental Council.

Dental hygienists are usually on band five of the NHS “agenda for change” pay system, earning between £21,692 and £28,180. More experienced staff can move up to band six, where they can expect to earn between £26,041 and £34,876.

2. Dental technician

If you have a steady hand and enjoy a technical challenge, working as a dental technician could be for you. Sometimes referred to as dental technologists, these invaluable members of the dental team are responsible for constructing the orthodontics, crown and bridge work, dentures and other inserts to improve patients’ ability to eat, their appearance or their speech.

Dental technicians can also construct maxillofacial prosthetics to help repair the appearance of people whose faces have been damaged by disease or in accidents.

Opportunities are available to work in both the NHS and the private sector. The former option is likely to see you working in a hospital, while the latter might involve working in a private lab serving a large number of dental practices.

A qualification in dental technology is necessary to register with the General Dental Council, and this can be a level-three BTEC extended diploma, a foundation degree or a full degree.

Dental technicians usually start on band five, earning between £21,692 and £28,180. With experience they can become a dental technician specialist – rising to band six and earning between £26,041 and £34,876. Dental lab managers can reach band eight, with pay of £39,632 to £67,805.

3. Dental therapist

Dental therapists carry out certain procedures that might usually be done by a dentist – but without the need for a referral to one.

Sometimes referred to as oral health practitioners, they scrape and polish teeth, give basic fillings, apply protective agents and sealants, whiten teeth, take X-rays and remove children’s baby teeth when necessary.

They work in hospitals, dental practices and in the community. Health promotion and education is part of the role – talking to children and adults and encouraging them to take good care of their teeth – and may involve visiting schools or community centres.

A scientific background is a pre-requisite and those wishing to enter the role will need a General Dental Council-approved diploma in dental therapy or a degree in oral health sciences, or dental therapy and dental hygiene.

Pay-wise, dental therapists start at band five, earning between £21,692 and £28,180 a year. This can rise to £26,041 to £34,876 with experience and a move up to band six. Team managers can progress to band seven, earning up to £40,964.

4. Dentist

Dentists work with the public to prevent and treat dental and oral health disease, to correct dental irregularities – often in children – and to repair damage to teeth caused by accidents or injuries.

Most dentists work on a self-employed basis, providing dental care to the public from a practice – either through the NHS or privately.

Routine work includes providing dental treatments such as teeth whitening, fillings, extractions, and fitting dentures or bridges, as well as giving X-rays and anaesthetics. The job also demands accurate record keeping and – if running your own practice – good organisational skills.

There are employment opportunities for dentists in private practice, hospitals, the community, prisons, and the armed forces.

A degree in dentistry is essential to enter the profession, and qualifications must be endorsed by the General Dental Council – usually taking five years of study. Three A-levels are required to get on most degree courses, usually including chemistry and biology with minimum grades of ABB.

Pay starts at £30,132 on the NHS dental foundation one-year training programme, with salaried NHS local dentists earning between £38,095 and £81,480. Hospital consultant dentists can make between £75,249 and £101,451 a year, while self-employed dentists treating both private and NHS patients can earn anywhere between £50,000 and £110,000.

* All pay data from National Careers Service.

Image Copyright: wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock.com

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