Most of us think of dentists as just a friendly face behind a surgical mask that hopefully we only see twice-yearly for a check up, but dentists provide an essential health service. Their role combines good scientific understanding with effective social skills and, if working as general dental practitioners, sound business sense. Dentists also often need to be able to manage a team of people including receptionists, hygienists and dental nurses. Becoming a dentist involves achieving high A Level grades to win a place at dental school, followed by six or seven years of study and supervised practice.
Apply to an approved dental school to study for a bachelors degree in dentistry, called a BDS or BChD. Courses last five years and entry requirements usually include A Levels or Highers in chemistry, biology and one other subject. Some schools require maths or physics as the third subject. Others accept either biology or chemistry and two other subjects. Applicants without science-based A' Levels can apply to courses that include a pre-dental year, which gives a grounding in chemistry, biology and physics. Graduates with degrees in chemistry or biology based subjects can also apply, but only those with 2:1 or higher degrees can enrol on accelerated, four-year courses.
Complete a Dental Foundation Training course within three years of graduating from dental school. Courses last a minimum of one year if full time, or longer if part-time, and involve providing care for NHS dental patients. Dental school graduates who want to work in specialised NHS services, such as paediatric dentistry, restorative dentistry or oral medicine, must complete a two-year integrated dental programme.
Apply to an established dental practice for a position as an associate. This is a self-employed dentist who is responsible for all their own work but works within a practice owned by someone else. Once associates have sufficient experience, they can apply to become a partner in a practice or open their own.
Enquire at local dental practices about work experience opportunities. Work experience isn't an essential requirement when applying for a place on a dental degree course, but it shows your commitment to the profession and allows you to find out more about the job.
Student loans are available to non-graduates and graduates on accelerated courses who meet residency requirements in the UK.
Once qualified, dentists must complete a minimum of 250 hours of continuous professional development courses related to dentistry, every five years, to renew their certification.