Nursing Matters – Hayley O’Neill on saving dental nursing

Gemma Forsythe speaks to Haley O'Neill about the problems in dental nursing

This month, Gemma Forsythe chats to Hayley O’Neill about the problems facing the dental nursing career and why she wants to save it.

You may know Hayley better as the owner and founder of Happy Dental Resources – the user friendly resources created for dental professionals by a dental professional.

These range from the Happy Trainee Guide, which takes a trainee from induction right through their early career to qualified dental nurse planners (they also include CPD charts), mindset and wellbeing tips, daily diary pages and lots more!

Gemma Forsythe (GF): So Hayley, how did you get into dentistry?

Hayley O’Neill (HO): I think it’s fair to say that my path to dental nursing was a series of stepping stones through many different clinical roles.

I really enjoyed science at school, especially biology, so I knew I wanted to work in a role with a medical feel, but I couldn’t quite work out what that was going to be!

I worked part-time in a veterinary practice for two years while I was doing my A-levels, then I found a job working in a laser eye surgery clinic where I stayed for two more years until I finally fell upon dentistry’s doorstep.

GF: What are your favourite aspects of dental nursing?

HO: It’s important to love your job and I strongly feel there are so many wonderful things about being a dental nurse.

Going the extra mile for each patient is something that makes you feel good, as you can see the positive effect it has on their experience. There is something so satisfying about gently coaxing a nervous patient to trust you, holding their hand the whole way until they become a confident lifelong patient.

The job is so varied because there are so many treatments on offer, and an unlimited demographic which enables you to meet and get to know people from all walks of life. It is not a desk job, and the hours pass quickly as no day is ever the same.

GF: Why do you think so many dental nurses are leaving the profession, and how can we prevent this from continuing to happen?

HO: There are many reasons that this is happening but a good place to start is with the following three points.

Unfortunately, the first reason is that many practices offer a poor salary and this needs to be addressed. There is a change happening which is positive but too many nurses are struggling with the cost of living and are being forced into other industries. The extra costs of maintaining CPD and registration are too much of an added burden.

Another reason is that many nurses feel undervalued which is a real shame as they are the backbone of the dental practice and without them, the practice cannot run smoothly. We need to start showing nurses how much we care and how important they are.

Thirdly, lack of development is pushing dental nurses to discover other avenues on a quest for professional growth. Dental nursing should be a career in itself so practices need to nurture their nurses and identify areas where they can add to their skills and develop. This will increase the feeling of job satisfaction and help dental nurses feel they are benefitting the team.

GF: How do you think practice owners can attract new staff into nursing?

HO: Finding a job is a job in itself, and a quick look online through the recruitment websites shows too many uninspiring job adverts which are not going to attract our future nurses.

Try and give more texture to your job advert by giving a feel for your company, including reputation and a mission statement to pique interest from the start. Outline the development and training opportunities, and options for growth, including what support and mentorship they will get.

Competitive salaries to help you stand out from the other entry level jobs available as trainee salaries are often famously low. Offer perks packages to suit your practice budget – big or small. These could include a day off on your birthday, friends and family discounts, practice days out, paid registration, vouchers for employee of the month, maternity packages etc.

I’d like to feel that the industry can turn this around and if we can, we can offer a varied and fulfilling career for our dental nurses. I’d love nothing more than for other nurses to agree with me on all the things that make dental nursing special, and how the role can be a career in itself with lots of areas for professional growth and pride of work.

There were so many things that kept me in the role for 12 years and while I have now left to take care of my family, I’m still so passionate about it.

Hayley currently runs her business Happy Dental Resources and produces resources for dental nurses and the wider team.

You can follow Hayley on Instagram @happydentalresources and view her product range at

Catch up with previous Nursing Matters columns:

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