Training and development

All members of the dental team have to take a course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC). You can search for GDC-approved courses using the Health Careers course finder or by looking at the programmes and qualifications listed on the GDC website. The course you take depends on your role within the dental team.

You’ll need to be able to put patients at ease, gain their confidence and deal sympathetically with their fears. You will hold a position of trust, so you will need to behave with integrity, tact and understanding. You will need to be able to communicate well with everyone from toddlers to the elderly.

The GDC sets the standards for UK dental education at undergraduate and postgraduate level. It publishes its requirements on the content and scope of undergraduate dental degree programmes along with dental hygiene, dental therapy and dental nursing courses. All new degree programmes and courses must meet these requirements and be GDC-approved.

Training to become a Dentist

If you decide to train as a dentist, as well as meeting academic entry requirements, you’ll need a willingness to learn about human anatomy and oral disease. Throughout your career, scientific knowledge will need to be updated as methods and theories of disease change.

Dental education comprises three stages:

  • undergraduate dental education
  • postgraduate dental training
  • continuing professional development

Undergraduate dental education

To qualify as a dentist you must complete five years’ training for a degree at university. You will spend much of the five years learning practical skills as well as attending academic lectures and seminars. You will get experience of a range of hospital and community clinics where you will treat patients under close supervision. 

Postgraduate dental training

This comprises dental foundation training, dental core training and specialist training.

Continuing professional development

Once you have successfully completed your undergraduate dental education, you will need to register with the General Dental Council (GDC) so that you can practise as a qualified dentist. As soon as you have registered with the GDC and throughout your career, you will need to undertake continuing professional development to be allowed to continue to practise. 

Training to become a Dental Therapist

To practise as a dental therapist, you must obtain a diploma or degree in dental therapy and be registered on the General Dental Council (GDC) roll of dental therapists.

To get on the course, you will need five GCSE subjects at grade A to C, plus two A-levels or a recognised qualification in dental nursing. You may also be required to have some experience of dental nursing before taking the course.

Dental therapists carry out a range of clinical tasks and will often spend valuable time encouraging anxious patients to accept dental treatment. This requires patience, and excellent communication and interpersonal skills. An empathetic and caring approach is very important, in addition to proficient, highly technical clinical skills. You will need to be confident to work on your own and be able to put even the youngest of patients at ease. Much of your work is likely to be with children, older people and those with special needs.

Good time management and organisational skills are essential, along with attention to health and safety procedures. At all times, a dental therapist needs to be mindful of the need for patient confidentiality.

Diploma in dental therapy

The diploma in dental therapy course takes about 27 months, depending on the dental hospital at which you study. Some dental schools offer part time courses for dental hygienists wishing to qualify as dental therapists.

Subjects studied include:

  • preventive dentistry
  • dental health education
  • dental pathology
  • simple restorative procedures for both deciduous and permanent teeth
  • the extraction of deciduous teeth (previously known as baby teeth)
  • radiography and pharmacology

Use the Health Careers course finder to search for courses in dental therapy leading to registration with the General Dental Council.

Training to become a Dental Practice Manager

To become Dental Practice Manager you will need either the Diploma in Primary Care and Health Management or the Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice Managers.

You will need a variety of skills and qualities including:

  • excellent financial skills
  • the ability to manage a changing environment
  • good communication skills
  • leadership and motivational skills
  • organisational skills
  • a willingness to work with others and respect their views
  • confidence with information technology
  • negotiating skills
  • the ability to challenge the way things are and find better alternatives
  • honesty and fairness in dealing with other people
  • a commitment to the ideals of quality and fairness in delivering healthcare.

Certificate/Diploma in Primary Care and Health Management

The DPHCM awarded by the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists. It is open to existing managers and potential managers in a health or social care environment. You must be educated to level 3 standard and should have a background that will enable you to benefit from the programme.

In order to be able to take the programme, you need to be recommended by an appropriate employer and accepted by a recognised centre following interview.

The programme is included in the Qualifications and Credit Framework at level 5 and is provided by a number of AMSPAR/City and Guilds approved centres.

The course contains modules covering the following topics in a primary care and health environment:

  • managing medical ethics and legal requirements
  • financial management and budgeting
  • managing information and communication
  • leading teams
  • developing or improving services.

There are also optional units on topics including the manager as a critical thinker; becoming an effective leader and managing recruitment.

Find out more about the DCPHM and the location of AMSPAR/City and Guilds approved centres

Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice Managers (VTSGPM)

The VTSGPM is awarded by the Institute of Healthcare Management. It is delivered on a part time basis over a period of 36 weeks, using a blended learning model. This includes 1 full day of face to face teaching every two weeks and extra independent study in between. Guided study materials are provided and candidates are supported by appropriately qualified tutors both during attendance and distance learning processes of email, structured email tutorials, and telephone contact.

The course covers six key topics:

  • managing your enterprise
  • personal & team effectiveness
  • primary care, finance, data management & information strategy
  • quality and regulation in primary care
  • introduction to commissioning
  • medical terminology for practice managers.

Find out more about the VTSGPM from the IHM website

Training to become a Dental Hygienist

To be a dental hygienist you will need five GCSE subjects graded A – C or equivalent, plus two A levels or a recognised dental nursing qualification.

Good people and communication skills are very important and, given that you might work in different settings, you will probably be the kind of person who enjoys a job with plenty of variety.

To practise as a dental hygienist, you need to take a course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC) and then need to register with the GDC.

Subjects studied include:

  • anatomy and physiology
  • preventive dentistry
  • dental health education
  • dental pathology
  • the management and care of patients

Several dental schools offer courses combining dental hygiene and dental therapy.

Use the Health Careers course finder to search for courses in dental hygiene.

Training to become a Dental Nurse

You can usually work as a trainee dental nurse without academic qualifications. To become a qualified Dental Nurse you will need to study for a degree in dental nursing that is approved by the General Dental Council.

Dental Nursing degree

Exact course requirements will vary from provider to provider, but a minimum 2 GCSEs (4/C grade or above) in English language and maths or a science subject are usually required for part-time courses.

Full-time degree level courses may require A-levels or equivalent level 3 qualifications. Check the Health Careers course finder for available courses and always check with individual course providers about their specific entry requirements.

Level 3 apprenticeship in dental nursing

A level 3 apprenticeship in dental nursing is an additional way to gain the required qualifications in dental nursing.

Training to become a Dental Technician

To become as a Dental Technician complete one of the following courses that are approved by the General Dental Council (GDC)

  • BTEC National Diploma in Dental Technology by obtaining a post as a trainee dental technician and taking the course part time. The BTEC normally requires you to have at least four GCSEs at grade C or above or the equivalent.
  • Foundation degree in dental technology by obtaining a post as a trainee dental technician and taking the course part time.
  • BSc (Hons) degree in dental technology which requires you to have 3 A-levels or equivalent qualifications

Use the Health Careers course finder to find out which organisations provide courses in dental technology.

Clinical dental technicians

Clinical dental technicians are dental technicians who have undertaken specific clinical training to enable them to design, create, construct, modify and fit removeable dental appliances for patients. In this role, you would be able to provide dentures direct to patients with no natural teeth, or work with and to the prescription of a dentist to provide partial dentures for patients with some teeth. This is an interesting option for dental technicians who would like to have direct contact with patients.