The smile business

If there were ever a recession-proof industry to be in, dentistry would be among the front runners. With attractive starting salaries for the right candidates, and interesting and varied career paths on offer, the field can be rewarding in both senses of the word.

Start early

As with any medical profession, those wishing to pursue a career in dentistry need to make the right educational choices early on. Competition is fierce. The majority of university dental schools and the Royal Colleges of Surgeons will be looking for students with three A levels in the sciences (biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics), with at least three A grades and one additional subject in the arts, languages, business or critical thinking.

In addition to academic excellence, demonstrable experience of using your hands with an intricate attention to detail will

be advantageous – perhaps playing a musical instrument, sculpture or model making. In my case, the experience I gained serving an apprenticeship in engineering generated far more interest with the university interview panel than my four A-levels, so try to think about how your skills could be used.

Study time

In order to become a fully-fledged dentist, you will need to gain a relevant qualification, which you can do at the following institutions:

  • London: Guy’s Hospital at london bridge, King’s College at Denmark Hill and The london at Whitechapel
  • Scotland: Dundee, aberdeen and Glasgow
  • England & Wales: Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol
  • new courses now at Southampton and Plymouth

The five-year courses are split broadly as follows:

  • Year one: joint lectures with medical students to gain a wide understanding of anatomy, physiology and biochemistry.
  • Year two: more specialised learning, focusing on general and oral pathology, microbiology, dental technology and material sciences.
  • Years three to five: supervised clinical activities to allow students to practically apply what they have learned.

Practice makes perfect

After passing their exams, a graduate is awarded their Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree, or the LDS (Licentiate in Dental Surgery) licence if they have studied at one of the Royal Colleges, and must register with the General Dental Council before they can go into practice. A mandatory one to two-year period of supervised clinical activity in general practice then begins, before the practitioner is able to operate independently.

Specialisation & postgraduate education

Of course, basic qualifications are just the beginning. There are a whole range of additional specialisation now open to the newly-qualified practitioner:

  • Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery focuses on major head and neck surgery including trauma, developmental anomalies (such as cleft palates) and cancer of the head and neck.
  • Orthodontics is dedicated to the movement of teeth to provide a more pleasing appearance to a patient’s smile.
  • Restorative Dentistry involves restoration of damaged and missing teeth and treating gum disease and damaged nerves in the roots of teeth. Edinburgh and the Eastman Dental Hospital in london are the only universities solely directed to postgraduate education.

Choices, choices…

There are also a number of related career paths for those wishing to enter the world of dentistry:

  • Dental technicians: making dentures, crowns, bridges and dental braces.
  • Dental nurses: supporting the dentist in delivering patient care.

Both roles may have lower academic entry requirements, but each are skilled, competitively- paid and rewarding options in their own right.