What did dental nursing teach me about becoming a dental therapist?

dental therapist working on patientBeth Taylor explains how the experience she gained as a dental nurse helped her in a career move to become a dental therapist.

In 2012, when I was offered my first job as a trainee dental nurse, I had no idea about the fascinating world I was about to plunge headfirst into.

I, like many others, had the common misconception that the job is ‘easy’. How wrong was I?

I quickly learned that I had joined one of the most challenging and rewarding industries out there.

During my time as a dental nurse, I was lucky enough to work with a mixture of dental professionals, including many dental hygienists and therapists. Prior to this, I had little knowledge of these roles and truthfully, I was unaware of their existence.

Soon enough, inspired by the work of many excellent hygienists/therapists, I was thirsty for career progression.

After completing some post-qualifications, I decided to apply to university. Many universities focus on the academic achievements of their applications. But with a lack of science-related qualifications, my options were limited.

It was important for me to study somewhere that recognised dental nursing offers a wealth of knowledge. That it equips you for the leap of faith from dental nursing to becoming your own clinician.

I applied to Teesside, which accepts dental nursing and post-qualifications in its entry requirements.

So what did experience as a dental nurse teach me about becoming a dental therapist?

A career I love

Sadly, many students report they wished they’d picked a different degree.

Having the experience of working in the dental industry, I knew the degree I was doing was truly the career path for me.

I was able to see the good, the bad and the ugly of the profession. Working in the role for many years enabled me to make an informed decision about dental therapy as a career.

Communication is key

Whilst at university, I quickly became thankful for my time as a dental nurse. I realised it taught me how to be an excellent communicator with patients.

As a dental nurse, you learn to read the emotions of patients and develop valuable skills to help put them at ease during treatments.

This is a vital aspect of dental therapy. Our key role is to educate and motivate our patients through effective communication methods.

Prior dental knowledge

Another key aspect helping me through studies was my prior dental knowledge.

My time as a dental nurse meant I had knowledge of radiography, anatomy, dental biomaterials, dental procedures and equipment that I would need for my career as a dental therapist.

I truly believe that having this knowledge, whether a qualified dental nurse or pre-reading before a degree, helped me at my university interviews and during the course.

Having said all that, some of the most caring and highly skilled clinicians I met at university had no prior dental knowledge before starting their degree. It certainly didn’t hold them back!

‘Keeping a hand in’

I so strongly believe that dental nursing added value to my university-learning. So much so that I continued to locum nurse throughout my degree.

It’s something I would recommend to all qualified dental nurses who are at university. Locum nursing allows you to gain experience in many different settings, meet new people, and maintain your valuable knowledge and skills.

I was even lucky enough for one of the practices I did one-day locum dental nursing for to offer me my first role as a dental therapist!

The importance of joining an association

Finally, one of the biggest things dental nursing taught me about becoming a dental therapist, is the importance of joining an association.

I was a member of the BADN as a dental nurse, and a student member of both the BADT and BSDHT as a student therapist. The work these associations do to gain recognition and progression for our profession is outstanding. They have done remarkable things for dental hygienists and therapists in the UK. They also provide a gateway to creating a professional support network. I believe they’re worth their weight in gold.

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