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Crafting Your Path: How to Become a Dentist in the UK

20 Nov, 2023
Crafting Your Path: How to Become a Dentist in the UK

Working as a dentist can be a challenging but very rewarding career path and the UK has some of the world’s best opportunities for qualified dentists, whether you’re starting from scratch or transitioning into dentistry from another field.

In this blog post, we outline the path to becoming a dentist, typical responsibilities of the job and common dental career progression.

Table of Contents

6 Steps to Becoming a Dentist

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Dentist?

What Are the Job Prospects for Dentists?

What Is the Average Salary of a Dentist in the UK?

What Are the Responsibilities of a Dentist?

6 Steps to Becoming a Dentist

Here, we explore the six steps that lead to a career as a dentist.

1. Complete your A-levels

To qualify as a dentist, you need to take a dental degree at university, so attaining A-levels is very important. Most universities will require very high grades (typically three As at A-level, with some universities asking for A*AA).

Sometimes, schools have subject preferences, such as the requirement for students to have A-levels in Biology and/or Chemistry. However, certain dental courses might not insist on specific subject requirements, so it's important that you research your preferred universities carefully.

One year pre-dental courses are offered by some dental schools for those who don't have the required A-levels or equivalent.

At Kings, we offer a full range of A-level subjects, and our specialist UCAS advisors can ensure you are completing the best combination for your intended degree and career path. Small class sizes and expert teaching all contribute to higher-than-average grade outcomes for our students. Find out more.

2. Apply (and get accepted) to your preferred university

Dentistry is a very popular undergraduate degree in the UK and there is lots of competition for places. There are currently sixteen dental schools in the UK and two postgraduate entry dental institutes.

Application process

When researching universities and their dentistry programmes, the Dental Schools Council offers some useful information about different courses and entry requirements, and information can also be found on the UCAS website. As a dentistry applicant, you'll be able to apply for up to four different degree courses through UCAS.

The deadline for Dentistry course applications is the 16th October.

The application process comprises several different components. It’s worth bearing in mind that in order for all elements to be as successful as possible, the best idea is to try and get some dentistry related work experience beforehand.

Having some direct experience will give you a great insight into the profession you are hoping to enter, and inform both your personal statement and interview in terms of explaining why you would like to be dentist, and what skills and attributes are required to be one. For example:

  • A willingness to learn about human anatomy and oral disease.
  • The ability to put patients at ease, gain their confidence and deal sympathetically with their fears
  • Good communication skills; when dealing with everyone from toddlers to the elderly

It's also a good idea to become a student member of the British Dental Association (BDA) prior to university applications. You'll get access to its journal and student magazine as well as its dental library and e-books. Find out more at BDA - Students.

Components

Alongside information about your educational background and achievements, your university application will include:

A personal statement: This give you the chance to tell university admissions teams a bit about your career hopes, your personal attributes and ultimately help your application to be a dental student stand out from the crowd.

Aptitude and admissions tests: During the application stage, you will most likely have to take the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) or BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT).

Interviews: It’s unlikely that you’ll receive an offer without an interview. In fact, most universities clearly state that they won't give any offers without an interview. There are two main ways you could be interviewed; panel interviews, where you’ll interact with a panel of interviewers, and Multiple mini-interviews (MMI) which require you to rotate around stations, each with a new interviewer and a new interview question or task.

Find out more about the UK university application process

3. Complete a degree in dentistry

The Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS or BChD) degree is a five-year dental course in the UK for undergraduate entry. This course can be abbreviated as BDS or BChD but both result in the same dentistry degree.

Your degree should be accredited by the General Dental Council (GDC). You must have an approved degree in dentistry to practise as a dentist.

If you've already completed a degree, achieved at least a 2:1 and the course had a large element of biology or chemistry, you may be able to do an accelerated four-year dental course. For example, there are currently four year courses available at the University of Aberdeen, Kings College London, the University of Liverpool and UCLan dental schools for students with prior qualifications, for example a degree in Biomedical Sciences.

4. Undertake Dental Foundation Training (DFT)

To practice dentistry in the NHS (UK National Health Service), dentists must complete either dental foundation training (DFT) or vocational training (VT). This involves supervised training in an approved practice for one year after graduation.

Following this training, dentists have various career paths to choose from, such as working in hospitals or community dentistry. However, most opt to work as associates in established practices.

Once qualified, dentists have opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills through a wide range of short courses and postgraduate qualifications, often on a part-time basis. This allows them to stay updated and continually improve their expertise.

5. Register with the General Dental Council (GDC)

Upon qualification dentists must register with the General Dental Council, the profession's governing body. Through this body they can complete Continuous Professional Development on a five-year cycle to maintain their registration.

6. (Optional) Dental Core Training (DCT) and Dental Specialty Training (DST)

If you want to specialise in a particular area of dentistry, for example paediatric dentistry or orthodontics, you need to do dental core training. This can last from 1-3 years, after which you can apply for specialist training.

Specialist training is competitive, and dentists may have to apply 2 or 3 times before they’re successful. Training lasts 3-5 years depending on the speciality. At the end of the training, you need to take a membership exit exam. Upon passing the exam, you become a specialist.

Find out more about advantages and disadvantages of Dental Core Training in this video.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Dentist?

To do a standard 5-year degree, tuition fees for UK students are round £9,250 a year, so in total this will cost around £46,000. For international students, tuition fees can be over £40,000 per year, which means in total you could pay over £200,000 just on tuition fees for your degree.

Along with this, you’ll also have the additional costs of accommodation, textbooks, and utilities.

For 2021-22, the average cost for accommodation was around £166 a week (higher in areas like London), so - as a guide - in total accommodation could cost you an additional £40,000 for 5 years.

Thankfully there are a range of scholarships and bursaries available, so it's worth researching potential opportunities on any prospective universities' websites.

What Are the Job Prospects for Dentists?

The demand for dentists is on the rise in the UK, both in public and private sectors.

After completing their foundation training, dentists have the opportunity to advance as an associate or partner. Many professionals eventually establish their own practice, taking on management duties such as budgeting, staff management and procurement of dental equipment. Although the responsibilities are greater, they generally enjoy more flexibility when it comes to working hours.

Hospital dentists follow a clear career progression path, gaining recognised postgraduate qualifications to become eligible for senior positions. These dentists can specialise in various fields, including oral and maxillofacial surgery, restorative dentistry, orthodontics, and paediatric dentistry.

an orthodontic mould

For those who choose to work in the community, gaining experience as a community clinical dental officer is essential before pursuing postgraduate qualifications, usually through part-time study while working. Afterwards, it is possible to advance as a senior dental officer, with responsibilities focused around treating people with special needs or focusing on epidemiology, among other areas.

If academia interests you, there are opportunities to work in universities, teaching hospitals, and dental schools, with the possibility of advancing to professorial or senior lectureship positions.

What Is the Average Salary of a Dentist in the UK?

According to the Prospects website, the following salary ranges apply to dentists in the UK.

  • During foundation training, dentists earn a salary of £33,720.
  • Profits of dental practices varies greatly but in general dentists can earn around £50,000 to £110,000. Wholly private dentists can earn £140,000+.
  • For those who choose to undertake dental core training, instead of working in general practice, they can earn a salary of £39,467 to £50,017. There are also additional payments for night, weekend and on-call work.
  • Salaried dentists employed by the NHS, mainly working in community dental services, earn between £43,019 to £92,013.
  • In NHS trust hospitals, consultants in dental specialties earn a basic salary of £84,559 to £114,003 depending on the number of years spent in the consultant grade.

Other salaried posts exist in the armed forces and in corporate practices.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Dentist?

Dentists can work in their own private practice, within in an NHS practice or some combination of the two. They perform a variety of functions related to caring for patients' teeth, gums, jaws and mouths.

While the exact job function of dentists can vary, they typically perform the following functions for their patients:

  • educating patients on oral health
  • taking patients’ medical histories
  • identifying and diagnosing dental problems using tools such as x-rays
  • providing appropriate dental treatment including regular cleaning, root canals, fillings, surgical extractions, implants and cosmetic dentistry
  • referring patients for oral surgery or orthodontic work
  • making moulds of patients’ teeth and preparing prosthetics such as crowns, plates and implants
  • maintaining accurate patient records and details of consultations
  • keeping up with best practices, new technologies and innovations in the field of dentistry
  • managing a team including dental practitioners such as dental hygienists, dental nurses and dental therapists, and administrative staff

Some practices employ practice managers so that dentists can concentrate on clinical work.

How Kings Can Help You Become A Dentist

At Kings, we offer a range of programmes to prepare students for progression to a Dentistry degree.

A Science student in the lab at Kings

From traditional A-levels to the Advanced Level Foundation and Medical Foundation programmes, designed specifically for international students, we can cater for all needs and requirements. Irrespective of the course followed, all students at Kings benefit from:

  • Expert teaching from subject specialists
  • Specialist facilities and excellent resources
  • Personalised support and learning

Find out more about our programmes here

Next steps

We hope that this article has helped you understand more about the steps involved with becoming a Dentist in the UK. You can find more detailed information about studying Dentistry and potential career paths in the Subjects/Career Guides section of the Kings website.

You can also find detailed profiles of the top UK universities.

If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programmes, please get in touch with us at enquiries@kingseducation.com.