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What does it really take to become a dental nurse?

10 February 2019

What does it really take to become a dental nurse?

Dental nursing can be a wonderfully rewarding job. Caring for patients from a wide cross-section of the population fills each day with new and interesting challenges. Here Healthcare Learning’s Tanya Kenny discusses why she enjoys her role so much, and the key skills required to make it as a great dental nurse.

When I became a dental nurse, 25 years ago, no one told me what it would take to make this career work for me. There are over 55,000 dental nurses registered with the General Dental Council.  Many are employed in General Dental Practice (GDPs), others are working in CCGs supporting primary care, and we can also be found in hospitals and healthcare centres.

But what does it really take to become a dental nurse I hear you ask?

1) Organisation: dental nurses are experts at multi-tasking

I’m not talking your average run-of-the-mill kind of organisational skills here. I mean military precision; it’s no doddle running a surgery and dentist!

We have so many things to do; we need to support the patients, complete sterilisation processes, maintain cross infection and prepare and deconstruct the surgery maybe 30 times a day. Alongside this, we write notes, set up instruments, sort out laboratory work, coordinate with other team members, fix and maintain equipment, and work reception. 

2) Dexterity: we are great with our hands

A quality in part learnt but certainly something required. Nurses may have to handle a suction, light cure unit, pass instruments, mix materials as well as sweep the floor. I jest, but it’s not far from the truth.

A nurse should be confident using a suction unit with both left and right hands. Good hand and eye co-ordination are essential for procedures such as suctioning as it enables you to pass instruments and materials in a timely fashion. This skill set contributes to the safeguarding of your patients and provides the best outcome for their treatment.

3. Tolerance: not everyone enjoys a trip to the dentist

Patients in pain can have the dual effect of needing support, yet at the same time alienate those very same people through bothersome behaviour. Tolerance also means treating patients in a non-judgemental way and allowing them to make their own decisions in an informed and non-biased manner.  

4. Finally, and most importantly, we have a sense of humour

Working with people is a pleasure and it takes all sorts to make the world go round. Humour reduces stress, relaxes muscles and reduces status differentials. Not only does this put patients at ease, it also diffuses conflict, builds trust and helps cement a team (excuse the pun). We work so hard as dental nurses and as a dental team that we need to enjoy our time at work and a sense of humour sure helps! 

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