Did you know that ‘dentist’ is only one of several roles you can take within the dental industry? Dental surgeries rely on a team of trained professionals – such as dental technicians, nurses, and hygienists – all of whom contribute to patient care and well being.
If you have ever considered becoming a dentist and researched the requirements, you may know that there is currenty no direct apprenticeship route to becoming a dentist. This is because, to be a member of the British Dental Association, you must complete a dental course, usually a bachelor’s degree (BDS or BchD), that takes around five years. However, there are apprentice dental positions with different requirements.
To use an imperfect analogy, think of it a bit like you can’t be a lawyer without passing the bar, but you can be a paralegal.
Similar to in law, a role such as dental nurse doesn’t require a degree and has a faster career path than a dentist. One such route is an apprenticeship.
In this guide, we’ll outline the different job roles you can take via an apprenticeship and the qualifications needed, and give you an idea of what a typical day might look like.
What are the different apprenticeships available in the dental/dentist industry?
Dental Nurse Apprenticeships
Whereas a dentistry degree can take up to five years, you can complete a Level 3 Integrated dental nurse apprenticeship in around 18 months. Falling under the ‘Health and Science’ apprenticeship umbrella, this course can also be Government funded up to £6,000. The role is described as ‘chair-side support’ with duties including patient care and communication, working to best practice, keeping patient records, preparing equipment and materials. You will also be trained to recognise and deal with medical emergencies and give oral health advice.
You will need A-Levels in maths and English or maths and British Sign Language (BSL) if BSL is your primary language.
As with any apprenticeship, you will earn as you learn, with an average salary of £16,000 a year as a trainee dental nurse. This typically rises to around £20,000 starting salary once you have qualified.
For many, it’s an attractive, fast route to a solid career path. There’s a good starting salary, mostly regular office hours, and the potential for career progression.
Many dental nurses are also dental receptionists. After qualifying, you can work your way up to Practice Manager. Your role would be to manage the day to day running of the practice. You can work in NHS, private, or community dental practices or even work for the military healthcare services.
You can also look at more technical courses such as:
- Certificate in Dental Radiography
- Certificate in Oral Health Education
- Certificate in Orthodontic Nursing
- Certificate in Dental Sedation Nursing
As these qualifications would make you more versatile in your practice you may receive some funding for training from them.
Dental Hygienist Apprenticeship
At the time of writing, there isn’t a direct dental hygienist apprenticeship. However, there is a Level 4 Oral Health Practitioner Apprenticeship. This is a step up from dental nursing and the next step towards becoming a dental hygienist. You must already be a dental nurse, registered with the General Dental Council, to apply. You must also have the same English/BSL and maths A-Levels as above, but you should have already completed those to become a dental nurse.
Duties include preparing more clinical equipment, checking peoples’ mouths and removing plaque for testing, taking clinical photographs, and teaching people of all ages how to properly clean their teeth. Oral Health Practitioners will also be trained to perform general health screening such as taking blood pressure and finger-prick blood tests for diabetes.
The apprenticeship typically lasts between 14 and 18 months, with a review after three years.
Having this extra qualification should increase your salary but won’t put you into the same salary band as a dental hygienist. That may come after your three-year review. With experience and further training, you can join the Royal Navy as a dental hygienist, teach student dental hygienists, move into an orthodontic role, or work in health promotion.
Dental Technician Apprenticeship
Not everyone interested in dentistry wants to be involved with the patients. Dental technicians generally work in labs, designing and manufacturing bespoke dental appliances and equipment.
The Level 5 Dental Technical Apprenticeship (Integrated) lasts approximately 36 months. At the end, you will have earned a Level 5 Foundation Degree Science on Dental Technology.
The requirements may vary between employers but will usually include three A-Levels including a grade C or above in maths and English or BSL. Previous relevant Level 3 qualifications will also be considered.
A mix of art and science, the role requires microscopic attention to detail, and manual dexterity, combined with forensic knowledge of the mouth and teeth. You will also learn how bespoke products can increase functionality and prevent further derogation, and the best materials and methods to use for specific devices.
The course gives a broad overview of the techniques required for the key areas – crown & bridge, orthodontics, and dentures – giving you a full range of options once you choose a specialty. Most labs will cover one or two of these areas.
The average UK salary of a dental technician is approximately £26,185 a year.
Other routes into Dentistry
There are pros and cons of becoming a dentist over one of the other roles. Besides the longer study period required, dentists also have more responsibility and stress, longer hours and more liability.
However, dentists also earn significantly more than the other roles available in a dental practice.
Even a junior dentist with less than three years experience can expect to be earning around £45,000. The average salary for a highly experienced dentist of more than 20 years is £142,000.
The wage bands are as follows:
- Junior (0-3 years) – £45,000
- Mid-career (4-9 years) – £68,000
- Experienced (10-20 years) – £110,000
- Late career (20+ years) – £142,000
Of course, apprenticeships are only one way of getting into dentistry, and may not be right for everyone. Here are a few other paths you can take.
Currently, If you want to be a dentist you will need to go to university. As mentioned, the course usually last five years, but you can complete a four-year course at some universities if you have a prior qualification, such as those outlined above. You can visit the Dental Schools Council for more information.
Once you have graduated, you must register with the General Dental Council and uphold a code of ethics at the risk of having your registration revoked. You will then need to complete a year of Dental Foundation Training with an approved general dentist practice. After that, you can work for a private practice, or for the NHS. For the latter, you will need to earn a Diploma of the Membership of the Joint Dental Faculties (MJDF). Finally, you can undertake specialist courses.
Dentistry is a very competitive field. If you can get some work experience under your belt, it may give you a slight edge.
Most university courses will include a placement, but the more practical experience you can get, the better when it comes to securing highly desirable graduate jobs.
Obtaining work experience is also highly competitive, so make sure you apply early.
As you can see, there is more to the dental industry than meets the eye, and several routes in for apprentices. While there’s not yet an apprenticeship to become a dentist, who knows what apprentice frameworks might be created in the future.
We hope this guide has given you a greater insight into jobs in the dental industry and what your options are. It’s a competitive field, but it can be a rewarding one, both personally and financially.