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Dental care professionals

Dentists work with a variety of dental care professionals (DCPs). Many overseas graduates enquire about working in practice as a dental hygienist to gain experience in a UK setting. All DCPs must register with the General Dental Council and only DCPs with approved qualifications are eligible to register. Overseas graduates cannot register as DCPs. Trainee dental nurses are the only group of DCPs that can work in practice without being registered with the GDC, although they must be enrolled on a recognised training course leading to a registrable qualification.

Dental nurses

Dental nurses provide chairside assistance to the dentist as well as duties such as sterilising instruments, mixing filling and impression materials and some administrative duties. Qualified dental nurses may also undertake further training to allow them to provide oral hygiene instruction, take radiographs and assist with general anaesthetic and sedation. Dental nurses must hold an appropriate qualification to register with the General Dental Council – the National Vocational Qualification (Level 3) or the National Certificate in Dental Nursing. Trainee dental nurses can work in practice without a qualification, but they must be enrolled on an appropriate course. More information is available from the British Association of Dental Nurses or the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses.

Dental hygienists

Only hygienists registered with the GDC are permitted to practise within the UK and can only undertake treatments for which they have been formally trained. As a general guide, hygienists undertake scaling and polishing of teeth, the application of fluoride gels and fissure sealants and the provision of oral hygiene instruction. Many are also trained to administer local anaesthetic, take impressions, replace crowns temporarily in an emergency and treat patients under conscious sedation. Additional recognised courses to further the skills of hygienists will become available. 

Hygienists who trained and qualified outside the EU/EEA countries are required to retrain before they are permitted to register with the GDC. Work permits are not usually issued to this group, so it is important that hygienists clarify their immigration status and ability to work in the UK as a hygienist before entering the country. The GDC and the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy may be able to provide information.

Dental therapists

Many dental therapists are also trained as hygienists and are able to undertake a wider range of treatment, provided they have received the appropriate training to demonstrate their competence. Their basic therapy training should equip them to extract deciduous teeth, undertake simple dental fillings and restore primary teeth by means of pulp therapy and pre-formed crowns. Additional skills must be supported by appropriate training. The British Association for Dental Therapists can provide more information.

Dental technicians

The majority of dental technicians provide laboratory services to the dental profession, both in general practice and the salaried primary dental care service. A small percentage provides assistance to maxillofacial surgery departments in hospitals. Many technicians work for large commercial laboratories, while a small percentage is employed by individual dental practices.  All dental technicians must be registered with the GDC and hold an approved qualification: BTEC National Diploma, SQA Higher National Diploma or the Degree in Dental Technology. Their professional association is the Dental Technologists' Association.

Clinical dental technicians

Prior to July 2006, clinical dental technicians could not work in the UK as their qualifications were not recognised, but the GDC is currently working with providers to develop a UK qualification. In the meantime, clinical dental technicians with qualifications from the George Brown College, Canada can undertake a course developed by the FGDP(UK) to allow them to register with the GDC.

Orthodontic therapists

This is a new DCP group and the training pathway and qualification is being developed by the GDC and training providers. To become an orthodontic therapist, an individual must hold a recognised qualification in dental nursing, dental hygiene, dental therapy or dental technology and have at least one year’s post-qualification experience. More information is available from the GDC.