Tales of a therapist: Carley Phillips

Carley Phillips describes her journey into dental nursing and how she found herself focusing on orthodontic therapy.

I arrived quite late to dentistry, I had a few different jobs but never found my passion. I saw an advert online for a trainee dental nurse and applied and couldn’t believe it when I was offered the position.

Quickly, I ordered several dental books and started learning. As soon as I started nursing I knew dentistry was for me.

A year of work, studying and exams went by and I received the wonderful news that I had passed my exams! I was so happy – I was now a fully qualified dental nurse.

The next step

My next step was to find a new clinic where I could improve and progress.

I decided to send my CV to the local clinics that would help me to grow. To my surprise I was offered a position at a state-of-the-art purpose-built clinic. There was one catch – it was to nurse for the orthodontist. But what did I know about orthodontics? Not much!

I had a day’s lecture during my training but that was it. It was a very nerve racking first few weeks, the days were quite stressful. But once I settled into the role it quickly became evident that this was the area of dentistry for me.

The order, the logic and the relationships you develop with the patients in treatment was second to none and I began to love my working day.

My orthodontist is a natural teacher and I spent my days absorbing every bit of knowledge she shared.


After a few years I decided it was time to gain my qualification in orthodontic nursing. I had heard a little about orthodontic therapy and knew this would be the initial stage so I started studying at King’s College London.

I would really recommend studying orthodontic nursing before venturing onto orthodontic therapy as it really gives you a good baseline knowledge. As orthodontic nurses, we are great practically – we set up for the orthodontist and more often than not know what the clinician will ask for before they do. We don’t always know the reasons behind their choices but the orthodontic nurses’ qualification gives you a glimpse into this, which is so beneficial.

Another year of studying and exams went by. Whilst I was waiting for my exam results, I looked further into the orthodontic therapy course at Kings College. The applications were closing in two days. Could I apply?

I was wavering, but thought I should apply as I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be accepted. A part of me thought that it would just give me some interview experience.

The final stretch

I sent off my application, assuring my poor husband and orthodontist that I wouldn’t get a place. An interview  was offered to me and I was extremely nervous. I didn’t know any orthodontic therapists so had no clue what to expect.

The day came, and everyone was so lovely. I had nothing to worry about.

They asked me about my support network at home and at work and stressed what a large undertaking this course was. They were not kidding!

My wonderful orthodontist managed to get me a placement at her hospital for two days and I could continue at my clinic with her for a day.

I was set, this was it – the accumulation of years of nursing and studying and I was on the final stretch to my dream job.

Life on hold

I’m writing to you now eight months in and I am due to sit my exams in two months.

I’m sure you have read a few therapist’s journeys of the first four-week intensive course. Let me just say be prepared to give up your life for this time. I have two children, and this was not easy. There are constant exams and so much knowledge to absorb. It is exhausting but wonderful.

You get your first taster of being a clinician – firstly, with typodonts then from your fellow students.

As there were an odd number of students, I had to bond up my course tutor. I proceeded to drop a bracket and it was swallowed! As you can imagine this did not help my confidence, but my lovely fellow students and tutors were very supportive.

After four weeks we took exams to ensure we were fit to practice. With busy clinics already booked for us at our practices, it was extremely nerve racking but thankfully, we all passed!

We were extremely nervous going back to our new roles but needless to say, we were all fine. A few months later and we were all in our stride, sharing stories each month when we met for lectures, proud of the knowledge we have gained and nervous for the swiftly approaching exams.

If I have one piece of advice for you, ensure you have a supportive orthodontist. I see some of my fellow students struggling due to lack of support. I am so fortunate to have a very understanding orthodontist to whom I am so grateful. 

This article first appeared in Orthodontic Practice magazine.

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