Dental nurses work as part of a dental team. The term has a defined meaning within the UK. From 30 July 2008, all dental nurses in the UK must be registered with the General Dental Council to continue working legally.

Dental Nurses in the UK


Previously, no academic qualifications were needed to work as a Dental nurse in the UK. Employers, including hospitals and the community dental service, now require all Dental nurses to have obtained recognized qualifications, following the GDC (general dental council) new register for dental care professionals.

Qualifications recognized by the GDC for registration after 30 July 2008 are:

  • The National Certificate awarded by the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses (NEBDN)
  • NVQ level 3 in Oral Healthcare
  • SVQ Level 3 in Oral Healthcare
  • Certificate of Proficiency in Dental Nursing
  • Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing–1 year programme

Dental hospitals and further education colleges run courses on a full-time and part-time basis. The Certificate of Higher Education in Dental Nursing is only offered at Portsmouth University.

Most dental nurses, who start their career in general dental practice, study in the evenings or on day release, this requires a lot of self-discipline.

A small proportion of dental nurses start their career in a hospital. They will attend lectures, usually at a school of dental nursing several times a week. Their practical experience is gained from placements in specialists clinics within the hospital. As a rule, at the end of their training period, they are required to take a hospital proficiency test preceding the NEBDN examination.

The NEBDN certificate is awarded to dental nurses who have successfully passed the examination and completed two years of full-time surgery experience.

The NEBDN exam consists of a written paper, spotter, practical and oral test. The NEBDN exam takes place twice a year, in May and November.

Candidates must score 75% (or more) in each test in order to successfully pass, otherwise, the candidate will be failed and will have to resit the exam again later in the year or at the next sitting.

The NVQ level 3 in oral healthcare is a fairly new qualification that has been approved by the NEBDN. Rather than the traditional studying and examination of the NEBDN certificate, Student dental nurse completes in modules throughout their course, which counts towards their final examination.

Post qualifications

Qualified dental nurses can increase their knowledge and skills by studying for NEBDN post-qualification certificates. These are available in a number of specialist areas, including:

  • Oral Health Education
  • Dental Sedation Nursing
  • Special Care Dental Nursing
  • Orthodontic Nursing
  • Dental Radiography

Experience as a dental nurse can lead to progression to occupations such as dental hygienist and dental therapist. Some dental nurses prefer to progress into roles such as dental nurse manager, tutor dental nurse or dental practice manager.

GDC Register

The General Dental Council opened the new Register for Dental Care Professionals (dental hygienists, dental therapists, dental technicians and dental nurses) in July 2006. By July 2008, anyone working in any of those positions MUST be registered with the GDC (the only exception is of Student dental nurses with less than 2 years experience as a dental nurse who are on an approved training course). This includes anyone working as a dental nurse part-time, or occasionally (including practice managers/receptionists who assist chairside) and temporary/locum dental nurses working independently or through an agency.

Salary and other benefits

There are no set salary scales for dental nurses’ in general dental practices. Salaries are individually negotiated and tend to be higher in London and south-east England.

Hours and environment

Hours of work vary. Working with a general dental practitioner usually begins between 8am and 9am and ends (anywhere) between 5pm and 8pm. This may also include working evenings and weekends. Hospital and community dental service based dental nurses’ work more regular hours.

Hospital based dental nurses may sometimes be required to assist in operating theatres or attend to patient’s on a ward with a dentist or surgeon. The community dental service work in a number of different places including health authority surgeries, mobile clinics, schools, residential homes and patients’ own homes.

Dental nurses working for the community dental service and armed forces typically need to hold a valid drivers license and have their own reliable transport.

NHS Direct also employs Dental Nurse Advisors who triage and assess patients requiring advice, help and if necessary access to dental centres for emergency treatment e.g. trauma and post operative bleeding. Dental Nurse Advisors must be qualified with a mimimum of two years post qualification experience.