The Job and What's Involved

Dentists are skilled professionals who diagnose and treat problems that affect the teeth, mouth and gums.

Tooth decay and mouth disease can be extremely painful and hamper everyday activities such as eating and talking. It is part of a dentist's role to prevent such problems by educating people in good oral health. When things do go wrong, dentists choose the best treatment from a variety of sophisticated techniques.

Most dentists work in a practice. They often build long-term relationships with patients, caring for people's teeth over many years.

Their daily activities may include:

  • Giving patients information on how to look after their teeth and mouth.
  • Examining patients' teeth.
  • Diagnosing conditions.
  • Carrying out treatments, such as drilling decayed parts of teeth and filling cavities, or restoring teeth by fitting a crown or a bridge.
  • Scaling and polishing teeth (though this is often done by a dental hygienist).
  • Keeping records for each patient.
  • Managing staff in the practice.
  • Managing the practice budget and keeping stock up to date.

Some dentists work in hospitals, carrying out specialised work such as oral surgery. Others practise as community dentists, caring for patients with special needs, including elderly and housebound people, and patients with mental or physical disabilities.

Dentists use a variety of specialised tools, such as forceps and drills. They often take x-rays and apply local anaesthetic. Most use computer databases for patient records and accounts.

Dentists in a practice may lead a team, which may include dental hygienists, dental nurses, dental therapists and reception or administrative staff. Those in hospitals work alongside dental nurses, dental technicians and other medical colleagues.

Dentists working in a practice have some flexibility to choose their working hours. Most practices offer appointments on weekdays and Saturday mornings, as well as an out-of-hours service for emergencies.

Hospital-based dentists may work longer hours. They are likely to share an on-call rota for evening and weekend work (although It is possible to work part time). The work is carried out in dental surgeries and clinics. Hospital dentists carry out some work in operating theatres.

Dentists wear protective clothing including white coats, surgical gloves and face masks or safety glasses.

Community-based dentists may travel to care for patients in their own homes or in schools, residential homes or mobile clinics.

Salaries for trainee dentists in general practice may start from around £28,000 a year. Starting salaries in hospitals are around £25,882.

Dentists in general practice receive set fees for each NHS treatment they carry out. Most dentists do a mixture of NHS and private work.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 35,000 registered dentists in the UK. They work in all areas of the country.

The majority work in general dental practice and are usually self-employed. Practices range in size, from single-dentist, part-time surgeries to big partnerships working from several sites.

Around 3,000 dentists are employed by the NHS in hospitals. They work on more complex cases in a variety of specialties, including orthodontics, oral surgery and children's dentistry. A further 2,000 community dental officers are employed by the NHS to care for people with special needs.

Dentists are also employed by the Armed Forces to treat service personnel and their families in the UK and overseas. Some large organisations employ dentists to care for their employees' teeth.

A few dentists work in dental public health, assessing the dental needs of populations. There are also teaching and research posts in universities.

The number of dentists has grown over the past decade. There are also more dental graduates, which has lead to greater competition. However, there is still a shortage of NHS dentists in many local areas. These are often in rural areas.

Vacancies for dentists are advertised in the British Dental Journal (, in the British Medical Journal and on the NHS Jobs website,

Education and Training

To practise in the UK, dentists need to gain a degree from one of the 14 dental schools. These are based in cities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and are listed on the website of the British Dental Association.

The standard degree programme lasts five years. The requirements vary, but applicants generally need at least three A levels/five H grades, including chemistry and biology. Competition for places is fierce, so high grades are needed. GCSE's/S grades may also be taken into account.

Applicants with good A levels/H grades or equivalent qualifications in non-science subjects can apply for a six-year degree course. This starts with an introductory 30-week course covering chemistry, physics and biology.

Dental schools require candidates to have some work experience in a dental practice.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Dental degree courses cover a wide range of health, biological and behavioural sciences, as well as clinical skills.

After completing their degree, students planning to work in general dental practice must undergo a year of vocational training. This involves supervised work in an approved practice. Afterwards, they may join a practice as an assistant or 'associate' self-employed dentist, or work in community dentistry.

Students planning to work in hospitals join as a senior house officer, gaining general experience in hospital specialties. They then undertake specialist training as a registrar.

Dentists must undergo Continuing Professional Development to maintain their registration with the General Dental Council.

Featured Job Guide - Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.

Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dentist should have:

  • A sound knowledge of science subjects.
  • A flair for communicating and building a good rapport with all kinds of people.
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods.
  • Good eyesight.
  • Manual dexterity.
  • A sympathetic manner, to put anxious patients at ease.
  • Good IT skills.
  • Management and business skills, for building and running a practice.

Your Long Term Prospects

After a spell as an associate, dentists in general practice may buy into a practice as a partner. Alternatively, they may set up their own practice or buy one that is already established.

Advancement for hospital dentists requires postgraduate qualifications. There is a defined career ladder.

Community dental officers may also study part time for postgraduate qualifications. They may progress to senior dental officer level, with responsibility for a particular area, such as health promotion.

Get Further Information

British Dental Association,
64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS
Tel: 020 7935 0875

The General Dental Council,
37 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 0845 222 4141

NHS Careers,
PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Other Related Jobs

Additional resources