How to be an Irreplaceable Dental Nurse

irreplace-dental-nurseImagine being referred to as irreplaceable - knowing that your dentist sees you as a genuine asset. This could be a reality. Every dental nurse starts at the bottom of their career ladder with very little or no knowledge about the dental industry.

Those who push themselves develop into irreplaceable dental nurses. Every dentist is different and there are so many avenues to take to develop your skills as a dental nurse. A good dental nurse is always one step ahead of the dentist.

Communication skills

Communication in the surgery - both with colleagues and with patients - is critical, whether the contact is made in person or over the telephone. Patients will often turn to the dental nurse for advice and support after a diagnosis has been provided by the dentist. It is important that nurses are able to provide that support and make the patient feel at ease. In the surgery it is important that a clear level of communication is achieved to ensure patients are reassured from the moment they enter the room. This includes: supporting and talking to patients during their appointments, accurate note-taking and charting, and listening to what the dentist needs in order to ensure a smooth-running surgery. For nurses who are great at their jobs but not so great at communicating with patients, it may be worth looking into a treatment co-ordination course to develop and encourage new skills in the surgery. This is a fantastic course that not only develops your communication skills but teaches you how to deal with different personality types, as every patient will have different expectations and needs. Dental nurses should have reasonably high writing and reading standards in order to be able to communicate effectively with the people we encounter at work - such as dental technicians, dental reps, and the people we contact to order stock.

Work ethic

Your patients, the practice and your dentist all need someone they can rely on to provide a high standard of work at all times, and someone with an excellent attendance record. Being a motivated dental nurse with a good work ethic enables you to help build rapport with patients and the dentist as people know they can rely on you.  To ensure your work standards do not slip, set yourself a new target every month and aim to achieve it - for example:

  • Over the next 12 months, I will ensure my attendance is 100%.
  • This week I will work additional hours to ensure everything is up-to-date. This will allow me to focus fully on my dentist and our patients.

Those with a good work ethic are dedicated to their job and will do anything they can to ensure that they perform well. In every profession there will be people who only do enough to keep their jobs. However, those with a strong work ethic care about the quality of their work and will do their best to produce excellent work all of the time, going above and beyond expectations.


To make yourself stand out as a dental nurse, you will generally need to be calm, understanding, patient and caring. Remember: your most important functions are to support your dentist and address your patients’ needs. Some patients will need a lot more care and support than others, especially if you work in an environment which uses sedation. It is important to be able to work well under pressure. Nervous patients will need the support of an understanding, caring dental nurse who can provide a high standard of care and explain everything in a clear way.


Education is so valuable - the more you learn, the more you can bring to your work. It is important to understand the reasons behind your dentist’s working practices; for example, why do we leave the room when taking a radiograph? Why do we need to use a pulse oximeter when carrying out sedation? Education is valuable and dental nurses should embrace the wide range of courses available to them – these can help them to stand out from other nurses. Every practice is different, and the best way to know which course would be the most valuable in your workplace is to speak to your dentist and see which course would provide the greatest benefit to both your work and theirs.


A dental nurse's role will involve multi-tasking to the maximum, and the way in which you handle that will affect how valuable you are. Along with multi-tasking comes responsibility: for ensuring patients feel cared-for throughout their appointments, for ensuring waste is disposed of correctly, for ensuring patients in the waiting room are informed if the dentist is running late, and for adhering to cross-infection procedures (to name just a few). Responsibility plays a very important role when it comes to medical emergencies – something which most nurses experience at some point.


To provide excellent chair-side assistance, it is important to have organisational skills, and to make sure that everything is set out for the patient before they enter the room. This is important because it means that your dentist will have everything he or she needs in advance, and will have more time to concentrate on the appointment. 

The ability to concentrate is also an important skill for dental nurses, as you will need to focus for long periods of time. You also need good eyesight so that you can ensure treatment plans are correct before handing them over to the patient to sign. Eyesight is also important when dealing with small dental equipment; burs in particular are a vital piece of equipment, but are easily lost or misplaced if you are not careful with them. 

Finally, to become an irreplaceable dental nurse, it is crucial that you can work equally well independently and as part of a team. You will find that each of these are as important as each other.

In conclusion, the main factor that makes you irreplaceable is the passion and hard work you put into your career; your view of it as a hobby you love, rather than a job. There are many positive things you can inject into your career, such as qualifications, personality and a strong work ethic. Your career is what you make it - so set out to be the best and work hard. You will soon become irreplaceable.


Written by R.Gibbons RDN

DNN022 Oral Health Education GIF Banner 594x896297x448 RGB V2

Banner IPC DNN 20042020

Bright Bites Sponsor