My Dental Nursing Career

DN Kelly HughesWhen I was in sixth form, I went on work experience to my local dental practice. My mum had arranged it through being friends with one of the dental nurses. I had always thought I wanted to try childcare, but with my work experience placement all set up, I thought: why not?

At the end of my two weeks, I got offered a job as a trainee dental nurse at an NHS practice. I couldn’t believe it! I snapped the offer up, and in no time at all I was employed as a trainee dental nurse at the age of 17.

My bosses enrolled me on my dental nursing course. The NVQ in Dental Nursing was new at the time, and we had two years’ training to complete Level 2 Oral Health Care. Once we had passed the written exam and completed our portfolio and surgery-based observations, we then progressed on to Level 3 Dental Nursing. 

I loved my training and the dentist I worked with – we are still friends now!

After I gained my dental nursing qualification, I decide to move to a new NHS practice to set myself up for a new challenge. Once again, my dentist was lovely, and we have remained close friends. After 18 months, I relocated to the South of England due to getting married.

I was beyond delighted when I landed a job at a high-end, all-private dental practice. This is where I found out about the difference between NHS and private dental care. I received in-house training in implants and orthodontics, but found orthodontics very fiddly, and didn’t think I would ever enjoy nursing in orthodontics. It’s funny how time can make a difference. 

I saw an advert for a job as a dental nurse within the MOD, applied, and was offered the post. I loved it, and during my time working for the MOD I developed a strong interest in oral health. After many years of working for the MOD, I then went to work for a dental nursing agency before finding I was starting to develop an interest in teaching. I shadowed tutors and completed the PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) and CTLLS (Certificate in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector) courses through evening classes at my local college. The two courses took the best part of a year to completed. 

I started to teach my own classes for the National Certificate. I was very nervous when teaching solo for the first time, but I was reminded by someone wise that the students didn’t know it was my first time. That helped a lot!

I always love a new challenge, and one I day I noticed an advert for the post of maxillofacial dental nurse at a nearby hospital. I applied for the job, thinking I would never be offered it in a million years. Well, I was blown away when the phone rang and I was offered the job. I decided to put everything into my new role in the hospital and pick up tutoring along the way. 

I thought I knew a lot within the sphere of dental nursing, but this was a new challenge that certainly kept me on my toes. I loved it; we had a new staffing structure, and I had to learn the pathway for the maxillofacial consultations to qualify. I couldn’t believe it – it is the longest pathway in medicine. 

I now had to study for my Radiography qualification as part of my job terms. That definitely made my brain hurt. Once I had gained the Radiography certificate, I realised I wanted to gain more qualifications. Next, I completed the Oral Heath Educator qualification. I loved every second of my studies. In one of my most recent courses, the Orthodontic Dental Nursing certificate, I had a very supportive orthodontic consultant who supported me all the way through. I then realised that the reason I had never enjoyed orthodontics was that I had never fully understood it; yes, I knew the instructions and the treatments, but that was not enough. Now, though, I had developed patience and a new passion for orthodontics. 

 Following this, I completed in-house training in dental impressions and mouth photography. Once I had completed my competency, I progressed on to running my own nurse-led clinics, in which I carried out impressions and full-mouth photography (under prescription) prior to patients starting orthodontic treatment. 

Given the importance of high oral health standards prior to orthodontic treatment, I completed the plaque indices course to help support patients – especially as oral health sessions are very popular within my clinics. 

By default, I had to complete an audit. I wanted to hide – I had never carried out an audit and didn’t know where to start. But after carrying out my research, I really enjoyed completing my audit. I have now completed three and presented then all at our regional hospital meetings – and I have won best DCP presentation each time. I would encourage anyone to carry out an audit – they are more enjoyable than you might think.

I think that over the years I often thought that a new challenge would involve starting in a new practice. In some cases this was true, but I also found that starting out on new courses and gaining new certificates counted as new challenges too and gave me great satisfaction. 

After seventeen years as a dental nurse, my advice to anyone starting out is that anything is possible – put your time and effort in and you will achieve your rewards.


Written by Kelly Hughes RDN

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