Is dental nursing for me?

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

Are you considering dental nursing? Gemma Forsythe dives deep into the multifaceted role including the skills it requires and responsibilities it involves.

I get a lot of questions surrounding my role as a dental nurse, and people wonder whether a career in dental nursing is something they should pursue for themselves.

In this article, I deep dive into our multifaceted role, and hopefully it will help someone who has been toying with the idea of starting a career in dental nursing figure out whether it is something that they would enjoy.

Transferrable skills

I truly believe that my previous job in a care home for those with learning disability, physical disability, mental health issues and autism helped me greatly in my role as a dental nurse. I took away so many transferable skills that I still use daily in my current job. 

However, before this I worked in retail and I definitely picked up some transferable skills from my several years serving customers and talking to lots of different people daily. No matter what job you are currently doing, there is probably at least one quality/skill you could take away and apply to your role as a dental nurse.

Pivotal role

Dental nurses play a pivotal role in our healthcare system, acting as the right hand to dentists and supporting the smooth functioning of dental practices. To become a dental nurse, we undergo rigorous training and education, completing accredited courses that cover a range of topics, including anatomy, physiology, radiography, and infection control.

This comprehensive training equips us with the knowledge and skills necessary to assist clinicians in various procedures and ensure the highest standards of patient care.

Dental nurses are essentially the backbone of a dental practice. We are usually the first ones into the practice and the last ones to leave. We play such a vital role in patient care – supporting, reassuring and monitoring our patients, and ensuring their comfort at every level of their dental treatment. 

In addition, we build rapport with our patients, assisting our more anxious patients to feel more at ease with every visit. We go above and beyond to ensure our patients have a positive experience within our setting. We also manage such a diverse range of patients, ranging in age and levels of dental anxiety, and we are adaptable to each and every one of these to engage appropriately and provide comfort to our patients.

Supporting the team

Another huge role we have is supporting our clinician(s), ensuring they have all they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

This includes setting up and shutting down the surgery at the beginning and end of day, ensuring our surgeries are tidy and clean, maintaining and replenishing stock levels, mixing dental materials, processing radiographs, sorting lab work, aspirating and maintaining contemporaneous notes under their direction. 

This is in no way an exhaustive list – but we have to start somewhere!


It may be low down on my list, but it is actually an extremely important element of our job – and that is cross-infection control. 

Equipment testing, fault reporting, filling out logbooks, sterilising and disinfecting dental instruments in accordance with the practice infection control policy, waste segregation…the list goes on! 

Maintaining a safe and sterile environment is paramount within dental care, ensuring the environment is safe for both patients and staff. 

Other duties

Depending on the practice or setting that you work in, you may also undertake reception duties, whether that is a regular thing or covering sickness/leave. 

These duties include dealing with patient enquiries, triaging dental emergencies, booking, amending and cancelling appointments, taking payments, assisting patients with forms, and additional administrative duties. 


Dental nurses also provide patient education. Oral health education including diet and nutrition, post-operative instructions and preventative advice are some things that dental nurses can provide to their patients. 

We contribute to oral health promotion by empowering our patients with this knowledge, and assisting them to keep their smile healthy between visits. 

Qualification requirements

To progress to being a qualified dental nurse, you’ll need to study for a course in dental nursing, either part- or full-time, that is approved by the General Dental Council (GDC). Exact course requirements will vary from provider to provider, but a minimum of two GCSEs (4/C grade or above) in English language and maths or a science subject are usually required for part-time courses.

Full-time degree level courses may require A-levels or equivalent level 3 qualifications. A level 3 apprenticeship in dental nursing is an additional way to gain the required qualifications in dental nursing.

After qualifying as a dental nurse, to practise in the UK you must register with the GDC.  You will then need to follow their guidelines for completing CPD and follow the Standards for the Dental Team that they have set out. In addition, you will need to pay your annual retention fee to maintain your registration.

High pressure environment

The dental nurse role is demanding and fast-paced. Our day can flip upside down in a very short space of time due to the time constraints of appointments and with dental emergencies adding into the mix.

It can be stressful at times and you can feel under pressure, but working with your clinician as a team can really ease this stress. Going above and beyond to help each other when needed is important for a good working relationship. 

Overall, although there are issues in the dental nursing world that need to be looked at regarding recognition, pay etc, I really enjoy the job and find my role very rewarding.

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