Dentists lead the dental team and have the skills and confidence to diagnose and treat problems and provide good advice to patients, as well as high levels of manual dexterity to carry out intricate surgical and dental procedures. They have excellent knowledge of human anatomy and oral diseases, as well as first-class clinical skills.

Dentists’ work is increasingly preventive, protecting teeth and gums from decay and disease. Dentists work in a variety of settings from loacl dental practices to public health, hopsitals and in the armed force.

Skills and knowledge

You’ll need:

  • knowledge of medicine and dentistry
  • customer service skills
  • physical skills like movement, coordination and dexterity
  • thinking and reasoning skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • the ability to work well with your hands
  • the ability to read English
  • to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device
Day-to-day tasks

You will:

  • lead a dental team to diagnose and treat dental problems
  • see patients for routine check ups
  • perform treatments like fillings, extractions and fitting dentures and bridges
  • whiten teeth
  • take X-rays and give local anaesthetics
  • refer patients to a dental hygienist or dental therapist
Dentistry degree entry requirements

You’ll need to complete a 5-year degree in dentistry approved by the General Dental Council, followed by 1 to 2 years of postgraduate dental training.

When you apply for a dentistry course, you could be asked to take the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) or BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). They test the skills you’ll need on the course, like critical thinking, problem solving, data analysis, communication and scientific knowledge.

You will usually need 3 A levels, or equivalent, including biology and chemistry, to be accepted to study for a degree in dentistry. You will also need supporting GCSEs. Contact universities directly to find out whether qualifications equivalent to A-levels or GCSEs are acceptable.

You may be able to apply for a 4-year dental degree course if you’ve already got at least an upper second class degree in biology, chemistry or a biomedical subject.

Career development opportunities

As a dentist in general practice you could go on to become a partner in the practice or set up your own practice.

If you’re working in the hospital dental service, you’ll be able to follow the same career structure and training pathway as a hospital doctor. You could also specialise, for example in implant or paediatric dentistry.

As a consultant, you’ll often find work opportunities in the private sector. With experience, you could lead a team, or manage a unit or department.

You could also progress to teaching and training students, trainee dentists and other healthcare professionals. You could also serve as a dentist in the armed forces.

General Dental Practitioners

Most dentists work as General Dental Practitioners (GDPs), usually in a high street practice, providing dental care to the general public. GDPs can largely choose where they work and may need to be flexible with their working hours.

GDPs may practise either under the NHS or privately, but most do both. Charges for NHS dental treatment are set at a flat rate, depending on what type of treatment the patient requires. GDPs can also work part time in hospitals and some go into clinical teaching. 

Community dental care

Dental care is provided in community settings for patients who have difficulty getting treatment in their high street dental practice and who require treatment on a referral basis, which is not available in a general dental care setting.

For example, community dentists look after young children who need special help, as well as elderly and housebound people and people with severe physical disabilities or mental illness. This work can be demanding and rewarding and community dentists can often be provided with opportunities to take on managerial and research duties. They can also be involved in school screening work and in epidemiological studies of oral health.

Dental public health

Dental public health is a specialty which involves assessing dental health needs and ensuring dental services meet those needs. Public health dentists work to improve the dental health of populations rather than individuals.

Hospital dental health

The hospital dental service has four main functions:

  • consultant advice and treatment for cases of special difficulty referred to hospitals by general dental and medical practitioners, or for patients admitted to hospital as a result of trauma or disease
  • dental care, including comprehensive treatment, of long-stay hospital in-patients
  • dental care of short-stay patients when this is required for pain relief or other emergency, or as part of, or in support of, their general treatment
  • the treatment of certain out-patients, where there are medical considerations which make it desirable for the treatment to be carried out in a hospital

Hospitals do not provide a dental service to the general public, except in the special case of dental hospitals where large numbers of patients are required for teaching purposes.

Hospital practice is highly specialised and covers:

  • oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • oral surgery
  • orthodontics
  • paediatric dentistry
  • restorative dentistry
Armed forces dentists

Another option for graduates in dentistry is to join the armed forces as a dental officer. You have the option of joining the Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force but it is likely you will be required to treat personnel from all three services as integration of medical and dental services is increasing.

You will receive full officer training and be required to commit for a minimum period of around six years. However, the salary (and benefits) can be substantial and sometimes grants are available to help pay for university costs if you are accepted before graduation.