Making a real difference

A career as a dentist should be relatively straightforward. After all, you have been specifically trained to do a job, you have qualified, completed a year of Vocational Training (VT) and now all you have to do is get on and do it. There is none of the indecision that some non-vocational graduates are plagued with for a few years after their graduation, or is there?

While on the surface a dental career seems one-dimensional, there are actually a lot of options within the field that you may want to consider. With this in mind, over the next few issues we will be profiling a number of different career areas that you may wish to research further, beginning with community dentistry.

The Community Dental Service (CDS) has long suffered from somewhat of an image problem among recent graduates. Deemed either not exciting enough or too challenging because of the patients it treats, it is a service that at first glance neither has the drama of a hospital job nor the stability of life in practice. However, dig a little deeper and find out more about this area of dentistry and you could be surprised.

It can offer graduates a wide-range of experiences while also ensuring they are well rewarded and have income stability.

The CDS workforce is usually arranged in a similar way to a hospital. The service has a clinical director who has both a clinical and managerial role, a senior dental officer, who usually specialises in a particular area, and a dental officer, a role which most recent graduates would be expected to fill.

The CDS’ main remit is to treat patients with special needs. Of course, ‘special needs’ is a broad term and varies between different services around the country. However, generally it refers to a group of people who cannot successfully access or be treated in the General Dental Service (GDS).

There are a variety of reasons for this, for example they could have a physical or mental disability, be a nervous patient, live in sheltered accommodation or a nursing home and therefore be unable to visit a regular dentist, or be a child with high treatment needs. The most common disabilities you may see during your time as a community dentist are conditions like dementia, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

People skills

With so many patients who have specific medical and dental needs, it is no surprise that many graduates feel that this kind of work will be just too challenging for them. However, try not to focus on your inexperience for a moment and think about what skills you have that could potentially make a real difference. Communication is key in the CDS, so if you feel that communicating well with your patients is one of your strong points then you may enjoy a career in this area.

And remember, in the CDS you will have more time to spend with patients and therefore won’t be rushing to get them in and out of the door as quickly as possible, which can sometimes be a problem for dentists who work in practice in the NHS. There is also the opportunity in the CDS to undertake some managerial duties and conduct research, which gives you the chance to inject a bit of variety into your job.

On the financial side, as with hospital posts, the CDS is a salaried service, which means that you will be able to plan ahead, knowing the monetary rewards you will be receiving for your work. There is also a clearly defined pay scale corresponding to the roles available, so you know what kind of salary you are working towards.

Another important part of the CDS is the speciality of dental public health. This section of the CDS aims to improve oral health care through appropriate preventive, educational and treatment services by providing information for effective decision making. It looks at the environmental, social and behavioural influences on the oral health of the population and the availability of effective and efficient services to improve it.

If you choose to follow a career in dental public health, you will be able to really influence the oral health of your community as a whole, rather than having to convince each individual patient as they walk through your practice door. You can reach out directly to the general public, which can prove to be a very rewarding experience.

So, the CDS may turn out to be a career gem for those who want to really make a difference. And of course, it offers so much more than that too – a stable career pathway, attractive salary and time to indulge in other interests.

Thinking outside of the practice-shaped box might not be the right decision for you at this stage of your career, but knowing that there are other options out there could just be a catalyst for change.

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