A question I am often asked, even after twenty-seven years in the dental field, is: “Why did you become a dental nurse?” It is something I often ask my co-workers, and the reply I often get is: “It was something to do,” or “I just applied and got the job”. So how did I become a dental nurse? My journey began after I left college in 1989 and realised, after work experience in a veterinary practice, that becoming a vet or a veterinary nurse was not the career path for me (as a great animal lover, I struggled with the emotional detachment needed to perform duties to my best ability). From my work experience, I identified that I enjoyed working in a clinical environment, dealing with the public and building a relationship with my clients.
In June 1989, I obtained the position of trainee dental nurse in an NHS practice. From there, I progressed to a position in a private practice, and I passed my NEBDN in 1992. In 2014, our practice amalgamated with a specialist centre. This enabled us to offer our clients specialist treatments ranging from implants to specialist periodontics.
The dental field has changed immensely in the last twenty-seven years. At the start of my career, there was no CQC (Care Quality Commission), dental nurses did not have to be registered with the GDC or qualified, and an autoclave was only used to sterilise extraction instruments. Wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and engaging in Continued Professional Development were activities which were not only unavailable but were unheard of – they were certainly not a requirement as they are today. I have witnessed the introduction of the CQC within the dental field and how our position has changed as DCPs. Requirements have been introduced which are often legally binding, giving the dental nurse more responsibilities and a duty of care to clients. Clinical audits ensuring that decontamination, PPE, and cross-infection guidelines are followed have also been introduced, and these protect not just the public, but us as DCPs.
The dental nurse diploma (or Level 3 dental nurse apprentice) becoming a mandatory requirement for trainee dental nurses to continue practising can only be a good thing, as it will ensure maintenance of a high standard of care and knowledge in all DCPs. Previously this was an “optional” qualification, seen as a requirement if you wished to progress into the private sector.
Dental treatment itself has developed immensely in recent years. At the start of my career, amalgam and composite fillings to treat caries, dentures to fill gaps, gold crowns, and occasional bridge work were the basis of all treatment available. Now crowns are aesthetically pleasing, implants are available instead of denture work, bone grafting is available to improve and replace bone loss, and prevention (rather than just treating the dental problem) is key to maintaining good oral health.
My journey since my first day at work back in 1989 has seen dentistry change almost beyond recognition. So is my dental nursing path ending? Far from it. My role has developed, and not just clinically. In June 2016, I gained my Level 3 teacher training qualification. I now mentor those on work experience and gap year students, and I deliver CPD both internally and externally to other DCPs, inspiring and motivating them by sharing my wealth of knowledge with my peers. In September 2016, I enrolled to do my Level 5 teaching diploma (PGCE) in order to develop my tutoring role further. The journey I have taken so far has been a rewarding, fulfilling one, and it is by no means over – I can’t wait to find out where it will take me next.
Written by Verne Rice