Dental assistants are also known as dental nurses. As a dental assistant you are an important part of the health family of the UK. In this role you will at least do some of your work for free to the public. This is because some work is usually part of dental contracts with the National Health Service (NHS). The role of dental assistants has been developing for many decades. Indeed, it is an increasingly responsible profession. However, there has been a shortage of dental assistants in recent years. This means the position is increasingly well-paid and well-regarded.
What Does a Dental Assistant Do
Dental assistants assist other professionals in maintaining good oral health. You help treat tooth decay and gum disease. Your work is to support dentists. Other team members are clinical dental technicians and dental therapists. The key functions of a dental assistant are:
- Ensuring that all relevant materials and supplies are in place.
- A big part of the job is sterilising instruments. You then need to pass them to the dentist.
- You will also spend time preparing materials to make fillings.
- Removing water and saliva from the patient’s mouth during treatment.
- You also will have to make sure the patient is always comfortable.
- Another role is helping in tidying the surgery.
- Finally, you will spend time checking and maintaining patient records.
Who Employs Dental Assistants
In most circumstances, dental assistants in the UK work within dental practices. These dental practices are private businesses. Indeed, some of them just work privately. This means all the patients pay their own fees for their dental work. However, most dental practices offer at least some dental services free of charge to the public. They do this through the National Health Service (NHS) dental contract. They are paid for by health authorities. In consequence, theses dental assistants have to work to certain levels with the public. Dental practices can be wholly private, wholly NHS-funded, or a mixture of both. The profit of a dental practice will be shared between the senior people who own it. In fact, this will always include dentists and sometimes dental hygienists. Dental assistants are employed by the practice. Dental assistants can also be directly employed by health authorities. Some might also be employed by hospitals. These types of dental assistants will be classified as public-sector workers.
Job Salary for a Dental Assistant
The official UK Government statistics on the job salary of a dental assistant are available. A dental assistant in a dental surgery can expect a starting wage at £21,730. This rises to £32,934 for experienced dental assistants. Another source estimates the average dental assistant’s salary in the UK to be £23,572.91. This is based on a recorded minimum of £15,590. The same source says the maximum salary is £29,995. Some other figures are useful to allow you to compare salaries. In the UK, the national average wage is estimated to be around £30,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current National Living Wage must be paid to people aged 23 and over. Taken together this means the minimum untaxed income for a 40-hour week is over £21,000 per year. There are significant regional differences in the salary level. Dental assistants in London and the South East of England are paid more than in other parts of the UK.
How Often is a Dental Assistant Normally Paid
You can normally expect to be paid a salary every month.
Who Negotiates a Job Salary for a Dental Assistant
Your salary as a dental assistant will be set by the dental practice. Dental assistants working in private dental surgeries are not covered by NHS pay and conditions.
What Sort of Contracts Do Dental Assistants Have
Dental assistants have a permanent contract. This will always be clear about hours and rates of pay. Additionally, dental assistant contracts will also specify overtime rates.
Your career progression in dental hygiene is linked to your experience. In recent years there has been a shortage of dental assistants. This has led directly to wage increases. Very experienced dental assistants can expect to be able to be promoted. With training and qualifications you can become a more senior member of the dental team. You can also end up as practice managers.
How to Become a Dental Assistant
Understanding the educational and training requirements to become a dental assistant is important if you want to become one. You will usually be trained at Further Education colleges. Alternatively, you could also train for an apprenticeship. You can also become one through direct employment and working toward the role. This is a common route to take to become a dental assistant.
Qualifications/Courses – Dental Assistant
The most common relevant course is a level 3 diploma in dental nursing. You could also do a T Level in Health. Both of these courses will usually be a mix of full-time study and work experience. To qualify to enrol on these courses, you will need:
- 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) for a level 3 course.
- 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) including English and maths for a T level.
Another route into becoming a dental assistant is doing a dental nursing advanced apprenticeship. To do this you’ll need to already be working in a dental surgery. Entry requirements for an advanced apprenticeship are 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).
Registering as a Dental Assistant
All dentists and dental hygienists need to register with the General Dental Council (GDC). You need to do this to work either for the NHS or in private practice. Indeed, the GDC regulates the professional conduct of dentists. Dental assistants and dental nurses do not have to register with the GDC.
General Skills Required
- You must learn about oral disease. This means learning about new issues in dentistry. You need to do this throughout your working life.
- Excellent communication skills are needed.
- A steady hand is needed. This is required in order to make sure dental treatment is delivered accurately. You must also avoid causing undue pain to patients.
- You will also need to work sensitively and constructively with patient fears.
- Some computer literacy is needed. This is because you will be recording information relating to patients.
- You must also respect confidentiality relating to patient records.
- A clean Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is required. This is because you will be working with children and vulnerable adults.
Mechanical Skills Required
You will need to be able to operate dental hygiene apparatus to remove water and salvia. You will also need to operate the machines that makes fillings for teeth.
Challenges of Being a Dental Assistant
- Oral health care is challenging for all professionals involved.
- You must maintain a professional outlook. This means always treating the public with respect. Don’t forget this applies no matter how difficult a person is being.
- Being a dental assistant can often involve repetitive work.
- You will usually need to wear protective clothing.
- Exposure to unpleasant sights and smells is part of your job.
Type of Person Suited for this Work
- You need to have a commitment to the values of the NHS.
- You will need to be able to deal with stress.
- Good dental assistants are also good team players.
General Expected Working Hours
Dental practices are open between roughly 8 am and 6 pm. This is from Monday to Friday. A dental assistant can be expected to work around forty hours a week. Dental practices will usually be closed at weekends and on Bank Holidays. However, there may be occasional evening work or weekend work. This will be done via a rota shared out across the team.
Location of Work
The majority of dental assistants work in a dental office. These are usually located in high street locations. They are also sometimes found in health centres. Some dental assistants can also be found in larger hospitals. These will usually have a dental department. Others may work visiting large schools. Further, a small number join the army or Royal Air Force as armed forces dental assistants.
Larger dental practices will have more than one dental assistant. This will mean you have the potential for promotion within the team. Over time, your work will increase. This development is intended to take pressure off the dentist. These additional roles might include:
- Taking x-rays and clinical photographs.
- Taking impressions of teeth.
- You might also make models of teeth.
- Finally, you might apply fluoride varnish. This is done to prevent tooth decay.
There are also some aligned professions within dentistry which might interest you. For example, you could go on to gain the qualifications to become dental hygienists. To do any of these roles you need further training. Alternatively, you could become an orthodontic therapist.