At the age of eighteen I was ready to find my first full-time job, but had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I scrolled through job listings every day, and before long I started to see vacancies for trainee dental nurses. I had a vague idea of what a dental nurse did and the thought of gaining a qualification whilst working really appealed to me.
After a bit of research online I found out that I could progress and potentially train to be a hygienist in the future. This instantly got me excited; I knew even before my first interview that this was what I wanted to do. The principal dentist at my first job interview could see how keen I was and offered me the job and the opportunity to gain my dental nursing diploma at college.
My first few days were tough. I realised had no idea how much responsibility a dental nurse had and just how busy it would be. I also had no idea that I would not handle the sight of blood well! I soon got into the swing of dental nursing though, and began to enjoy going to college in the evenings and learning more about the job.
I still knew that I wanted to pursue my ambition of training as a hygienist, so when my dental nursing course was almost finished I began looking at applying to universities. I knew my chances of getting in that year would be very slim; I only had two years’ experience working as a dental nurse and hadn’t even gained my diploma in dental nursing yet! However, I did manage to get an interview at the University of Essex for the two-year Fdsc Oral Health Sciences course and decided that it would be a valuable experience for future interviews.
The day of my interview was incredibly nerve-wracking. After chatting with the other applicants I quickly realised how little experience I had compared to them and decided I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up.
After dental nursing in general practice for two years I decided to try something new and got a job in a specialist orthodontic practice. Orthodontic nursing was something completely different; I had a much more hands-on role with the patients, which I loved. A few months after starting my new job I received a letter from the university with a conditional offer on the course I had applied for months ago. I couldn’t believe it! As much as I loved my new job I had to hand my notice in and go for it. After a manic few weeks trying to finish off my dental nursing diploma in time for the September start, I was ready to begin my training.
My two years at university were incredibly challenging – there was so much to learn in such a short space of time! The course at Essex involved attending university two days each week and placements two days each week with only a few weeks’ holiday a year, so it was very full-on, unlike many other university courses. For the first few weeks we mainly learnt anatomy and practised on phantom heads. Placements started in our second week and most of us were paired off with final-year students who would mentor us. As the weeks went on we were gradually signed off to be able to do more things with the patients, beginning with oral hygiene instructions, then recording BPE scores, and finally onto scaling supra and sub-gingival (with supervision, of course). As well as having four placements in general practice we also spent time working in a community dental practice treating special needs patients and in a clinic setting working alongside dental students.
The constant pressure of exams every term kept us all busy over the two years. Assessments ranged from practical and written tests through to case studies and case presentations. I qualified at the end of August this year and am currently working full-time for four different practices. I still have a passion for orthodontics and would not rule out further training as an orthodontic therapist in the future. I would also like to teach extended duties to dental nurses as I would like to encourage dental nurses to gain as many extra skills as they possibly can.
Written by Melanie Pomphrett RDH