Confessions of a dental nurse – part one

Confessions of a dental nurse – part oneOpening up about the day-to-day joys of dentistry, Ellesse Stacey reveals her favourite –and most confusing – moments working as a dental nurse.

My name is Ellesse Stacey. I said I didn’t want this to sound formal and the first thing I write is ‘my name is Ellesse Stacey’ so shall we start again? Leesy is what most people call me but honestly how people want to pronounce my name doesn’t really bother me.

I know what most of you are wondering if I’m named after the clothing brand. The answer is possibly – I’ve never actually spoken to my parents about my name.

I haven’t always wanted to be a dental nurse. Have any of us? Has anyone grown up thinking yes, I want to be a dental nurse? I think for most of us it kind of just happened. A girl I know introduced me to dental nursing. We had both been through school together, so it was nice.

I haven’t just been a dental nurse though; I did support work in between and met some incredible people along the way. But that wasn’t for me. So I went and did dental nursing again – and here I am.

My first practice I worked at was really good. Like any other job, I latched onto people and became really good friends with some of the girls. One of the girls I became close with, we used to convince our boss that every job was a two-person job, whether it was cleaning the toilet or doing decontamination.

Full of laughs

The laughs we had in that place; nothing will ever come close to it. In some practices it can get quite intense working with a group of girls and some days it was intense – we would argue and bicker but we would be fine an hour later and go on about our day.

That practice was something else. There were days where I would be crying of laughter. A nurse (who is now like my sister) once went into the surgery holding this chocolate birthday cake and said so loud: ‘Does anybody want any cake?’ But she didn’t realise that the dentist still had a patient in the chair and she went bright red.

We all have our stories to tell of when we first started dental nursing. My friend accidentally used her aspirator to suction up the glucose drink that was for the patient – the dentist was livid! What came over her I have no idea. Another nurse I know dropped a crown down the sink once. I love how clumsy some of us are; I could listen to stories of dental nursing all day.

At my current practice I’ve become really good friends with a nurse there and she’s always making me laugh. She dropped purified water all down herself once and she actually pulled a dentist’s hair (accidentally, of course). It is a serious profession but we are only human and allowed to make mistakes.

Six hands, five legs, three heads

We’ve all had injuries as well, haven’t we? Probes, matrix bands, needles ,that sort of stuff – the typical sharps injury. I decided to change it a bit and turn it up a notch, and I actually hit my head on the big yellow clinical waste bin. I’m not just talking a slight bump, I actually got concussion.

Now I know what you’re all thinking, why was her head in the bin? But I assure you it was not. I was simply trying to get a bag in there, the lid closed, and the latch caught my head!

Dental nursing is not what I expected though. I expected glamorous nurse dresses, a good chat with patients, talking rubbish with the dentists. Well, it is none of those things – quite the opposite! As a dental nurse you are expected to have about six hands, five legs and three heads. How I’m not skinny I’ll never know with the amount of running around I do.

I can assure you though, working as a dental nurse is an interesting and rewarding job. You also get a free therapy session from your colleagues when you feel emotionally or physically drained, so that’s always a bonus.

Also, if you’re trying to avoid sugary foods you should probably avoid going to the staff room at the practice. I can guarantee you will find more snacks in there than Tesco. Of course, we only eat them at dinner time though (or every time we get a spare minute. There’s instruments in decontamination to be done, but stuff that as there’s doughnuts in the staff room).


Ok, picture this. It’s Monday morning and you’ve just got through the door. A patient is already waiting for their 9am appointment at 8:15am. It makes you wonder if they’ve been there all weekend, scared in case they miss their appointment.

Anyway, just got through the door and the phones are already going off, you are panicking because you have got all your bags in your hand and the door needs locking, the alarms are beeping and any minute now it’s going to go off and it will be game over.

Or when you are booking patients in and you can’t get them in when they want and they say: ‘Really is that the soonest you’ve got?’ and you’re just sat there thinking ‘don’t test me today!’ Of course, that’s the soonest we have, or else I would have booked you in sooner!

Draw the line

When the phone rings and you get that one liner: ‘Are you taking on any new patients?’ They just simply will not have it that you aren’t taking any on.

Cashing up may seem easy but I can assure you it’s not. I have been told over and over how to do it, but when you have the capacity of a three-year-old when it comes to numbers it’s quite difficult. I can go as far as the charting and that’s it, I draw my line.

Reception can be good if you want a little natter to your colleague or a cheeky little brew here and there. I do love when a patient rings and has a good old chin wag with them, you actually forget they did ring for a reason and not just to hear about your day.

Speaking of people phoning, have you ever had someone ring to say: ‘Can you cancel my husband’s appointment he died last night?’ There’s no: ‘Hi I’m just ringing to let you know…’ Instead, they just come straight out with it.


Decontamination will always be that organised chaos. There will always be dirty instruments left from the night before and heaven forbid if there’s nobody in decontamination that day, especially if tests need doing!

I actually really like decontamination as once you get it sorted, you’re winning! What I cannot be dealing with though is when you nip to the toilet or go and have a cheeky brew and you come back to a load of instruments waiting to be done. You are just stood there thinking how they could have done it whilst you weren’t there.

How annoying is it when you’re bagging the instruments and you have a filling kit that’s missing something like a probe or flat plastic? Where’s your mate? You come as a family! Where are they?

Nurses, have you also ever got a full tray of clean instruments out of the autoclave and dropped them? How devastating! I feel so ashamed of myself when this happens – I had one job!

The audacity of the autoclave needing to be filled up after you have just put a full load in!

Or when you have a system going and someone comes in (obviously only trying to help) but it ruins the system. You’re trying to be grateful but all you’re thinking is: ‘Please get out and let me do it alone’.


Can I just mention that this is not about anybody in particular. But maybe take notes so you don’t end up doing this when visiting a dental practice…

When you call the patient from the waiting room and they reply with ‘yes’. Oh nothing mate, just thought I’d shout your name. Obviously we are ready for you now!

Okay, as much as your dental nurse might love hearing about how you’re doing and we are most certainly glad you are well, we don’t want to listen to what you’ve had for tea the past week and if Bill across the road has managed to cut his garden yet. We just want you to sit in the chair and let us get on with the appointment. Dental time is precious time.

I think most will agree with me on this – how annoying is it when the patient comes into the surgery and places their belongings on your chair, after walking straight past the chair provided for them? Do we need a sign on the chair?

So, they have moved their stuff – now it’s time to face the dental chair. When I say face it, it’s because for some really strange reason some patients think the chair is some kind of obstacle course. They cannot for the life of them work out how to get on it.

After the patient is finally in the chair after solving it, now they need to get back off the chair to get their medication list. You are fighting every urge to ask: ‘Why didn’t you get this out before you sat down?’ But instead, like the good nurse you are, you just smile and politely say thank you.


Dentists might relate to this one more – when you lie the patient back and they’re doing that awkward stare in your eyes as if you’re going to do some kind of magic show or start belting out a tune. They look at you like they have just fallen in love for the first time, or when a baby gives you that stare.

Patients I really don’t understand are the ones that are really embarrassed to give us their tissue with saliva or blood on. But they’re not too embarrassed to admit they don’t brush their teeth. Confusing!

When a patient has been booked in for a pain and they come into the surgery making sounds effects to emphasise how much pain they are in. We get it, you’re in pain, you really don’t have to make those noises.

Do patients need us to tell them they can go? Is this a thing? Because why do they insist on just sitting there on the chair staring at the dentist when the appointment is finished?

And why, oh why, after the appointment is finished, do they now decide they want to discuss whitening? The dentist already asked if there was anything you wanted to discuss! And could you not stand up and talk about it because I’ve been holding my wipe in my hand for like 15 minutes and it’s started to dry up.

That one joke they all make – ‘you won’t get far with my mask on will you’ and we have to pretend we haven’t heard that one at all and force out a laugh.

Appreciate the grateful

How annoying is it when you tell a patient to open wider and they open just a tiny bit? I just imagine doing that thing parents do when their kid or their dog has got something in their mouth and you try to wrestle it open.

When a patient starts touching their mouth with their bare hands and you’re just thinking, ‘what about Covid? Who’s that’? We appreciate you showing us where you’re getting the pain from but maybe just hover over the area instead.

The confused look on a patient’s face when you ask if there’s been any changes with their medical history. Why is it so confusing? Some answer with: ‘No, I don’t want to be put on any new medication’ – what?

Is it not obvious where you are supposed to spit/rinse? There is literally a sink right next to you and you still chose to spit on the floor and completely miss the spittoon. I get that you may be numb but please at least try to aim for it.

I will say this though, even with all the annoying bad habits some patients have, we really do appreciate the smiling, grateful patients.

Keep coming back to to catch part two of ‘Confessions of a dental nurse’.

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