Confessions of a dental nurse – part two

Confessions of a dental nurse – part oneEllesse Stacey continues to discuss the highs and lows of dental nursing in this second part of her confessions. 

Now, nurses! Okay, the talk you’ve all wanted and I promise not to disappoint.

Every single nurse will relate to a few of these points.

You get changed into your scrubs and you’re ready to look like a convict on the run. Whoever says Crocs are comfy are absolute liars!

When you come into a surgery and the nurse who was in last didn’t stock it up and you’re on your last aspirator tip praying that the dentist doesn’t need it for the patient in the chair.

Also, after you’ve organised a surgery and the next time you’re in someone’s moved it all around. You feel anxious like someone’s messed your house up.

You’ve set your surgery up and got all your instruments ready, leaving enough time for a brew and little natter to the girls. But then back to the surgery to wait for the dentist.

Dentist arrives dead on 9am – brilliant!

Mask troubles

Have you ever just walked past your aspirator and accidentally knocked it slightly and it starts getting loud? And you’re just thinking: ‘I barely touched you, what are you kicking off for’?

AGPs! You have your surgery set up, your PPE on and you’re raring to go! But wait, wait, wait – the patient has decided to not show up! Sometimes it’s nice, isn’t it? But when you have to put everything away again, that is not fun.

AGP masks – lovely, aren’t they? Especially when you have a really itchy nose and you’re trying to rub your mask against it and you can feel your stress levels increasing because you can’t get to it. Or when you sneeze (I’m sure we’ve all been there) – now you have snot floating around in there for the rest of the appointment.

You know the concentrating you do when you’re protecting the soft tissues as well as collecting the water? You have your mouth open slightly and you can feel saliva coming out and now you have a really sore chin because it’s rubbing on your AGP mask.

Covid! How weird was that time? When it was all new and we just had to wing it everyday because we had new rules all the time. At my old practice we cleaned all the time and literally everything – from corners of ceilings to skirting boards.

What about when you’re ready to go, you’re waiting to get the patient in, you’re prepared and the dentist is taking forever to do a patient’s notes. I mean what’s all this about? Why are they not in any rush when it comes to notes? I know they have to make sure they get everything in there, but type quicker!

Temperamental equipment

Speaking of patients’ notes, I worked with a dentist once who absolutely loved writing essays. One day I was working with him and the computers were down (I’m sure you can all picture the stress) – I had to write all his notes and the discussion between him and the patient on a piece of paper. All I can say is when the patient left, he was not happy with my notes.

I think I must have written about two sentences altogether, because he talked so fast and I couldn’t hear what was being said. But I didn’t want to go back in the surgery afterwards because he would have thought I was really stupid. We laughed about it after though, so we’re fine.

The sheer panic when they are doing notes at the end of the day and you’re cleaning down and you accidentally turn the computer off at the wall with the mains switch (I always just switch it back on as quick as I can). I did that once and the dentist asked me what happened and I just acted like I didn’t know. I’m sure I said we must have had a little power cut. Surely she knew, because the surgery light was still on.

I worked at a practice once where the X-ray machine was very temperamental. Sometimes the film would get stuck and when this happened – oh my gosh! The absolute fear of going back in to that surgery to tell the dentist that you’ve jammed the X-ray. The pure tension and disappointment in their voice.

Speaking of panicking, have you ever accidentally dropped something on the floor? And you only have one left! We’ve all been there.

How frustrating is it when you get yourself prepared for a lovely chilled day in decontamination and then you find out someone isn’t in so they need covering in surgery? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind covering because, well, nursing is my job.

But I always feel raged – I think it’s because you prepare yourself for a quieter day.

Mission of surgery cleaning

Cleaning cleaning cleaning, that’s the main thing you do in dental nursing! But you know when I do it the most? When I’m absolutely bored out of my tree waiting for the dentist and the patient to decide what’s happening. I start going on a right mission – I’m emptying draws, I’m wiping windows, I’m counting how many cotton rolls we have. Patients must think I’m weird!

Dental nurses are very particular. You have to be or else your day goes south very quickly.

I love having the surgery clean. I think that all nurses and most staff do actually, so when you get a patient in with a child running riot and touching stuff it sends me over the edge. When little Jonny wants to sit on the ‘spinny’ chair and his mum thinks it’s cute until he falls off even though you specifically said not to go on it. It’s taking every ounce of you to not say: ‘I told you so’.

Does anybody else love mixing Chemfil, or is it just me? Honestly, I really enjoy it and I don’t quite know why. But you know when it gives you a ratio of powder to water? Have you ever just been in a rush and you just go to town with that powder? My little ball fell off the mixing pad once when I passed it to the dentist. She had to sieve through the patient’s hair to get it. It was so embarrassing.

Protective instincts

How annoying is it when everybody else has finished and you can feel the rage when you see them laughing and you can’t join in because your dentist has decided they want to be a grafter that day and do treatment on every patient. I’m sure they sleep, eat and breathe UDAs.

What about the awkwardness when you know a patient? I don’t know about anybody else but it feels illegal when I speak to them normally. I always feel like telling them not to even make eye contact with me.

Why don’t we like sharing instruments? We have enough of them? I’m not a greedy girl (I swear) but when I’m in surgery what’s mine is mine. Although when I need to borrow something, I expect everyone to run around and give me what I need. At my last practice before my current one, we would all hide stuff so nobody could take our instruments. Is that bad?

We all get tired, don’t we? It’s normal! Especially with our job as dental nurses, it is very tiring. So how boring is it when the room is hot, you’re sleepy because you’ve just eaten your dinner and you have a patient in the chair having a perio pocket chart done. I could quite easily fall asleep right there. But I assure you I don’t and won’t.

No dental nurse left behind

CPR! I could shudder at the thought of CPR training! I enjoy the actual learning about it and I’m glad I have knowledge about it. But to practise on the dummies in front of everyone you work with is always so embarrassing, especially if you’re anything like me that gets out of breath after the first six compressions.

Once I start laughing there is no controlling me, particularly when I’m in a situation where I can’t laugh – it makes me laugh more. How awkward is it when you and the dentist find something funny or it’s something silly that sets you off? I’ve had to leave the surgery before because I just couldn’t stop. I wonder what the patient thought! A hygienist I recently worked with had me in fits of laughter – I couldn’t even look at her!

Friday! Finally! Everyone’s finished, bar you and you’ve run over. But it’s okay because you know as soon as that last patient goes the surgery door is going open with some force and what appears to be the squat team is coming in to help you flush through and clean down your surgery. You have to help each other out and no man gets left behind! It is like the Ghostbusters team comes out to play when someone runs over.

And that cleaning down of your surgery at the end of the day where you take out the filters from the chair – you never know what treasures you’re going find. Bit of amalgam? Calculus? Bit of a tooth? Who knows!

The spittoon filter really goes through me, even when you have wiped it a thousand times you always get that stringy bit on it when you pick it up. No amount of products will ever convince me that the spittoon is clean!


Read part one of Ellesse’s confessions:

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