Qualities of a Dental Nurse

Dental Nurse

The dental nurse has many duties to manage on a day to day basis to ensure a dental surgery runs smoothly and efficiently. Much of their role involves the chairside assistance given to dentists, or indeed therapists or hygienists during treatment of a patient. During treatment, nurses are responsible for the mixing and preparation of various materials, the illumination, retraction, and aspiration of the operating field, as well as having specific instruments ready for use . A good dental nurse is always one step ahead of the dentist! Nurses must prevent cross-infection in surgery, must dispose of all waste correctly e.g.  needles placed in sharps bin after use, they must also keep the surgery well stocked, organised, and maintain all of its equipment properly.

Other duties of a dental nurse include the preparation and closing down of the dental surgery at the start and end of each working day, accurate recording and charting, pre and post operative care to patients, acting as a chaperone and witness, maintenance of emergency drug kit, and many administrative duties.

Dental nursing can be a satisfying career choice. There are various skills, interests and abilities which help within the role of a dental nurse.


A certain interest in and understanding of biology is useful to people who want to be a dental nurse. This may seem obvious but there are specific qualifications that they must legally gain to work as a dental nurse e.g. The National Certificate for Dental Nurses, all courses cover various biology based topics – circulation, respiration and digestion, dental anatomy and periodontal disease to name a few. An ability to understand chemistry is useful when addressing topics such as fillings and materials for example, and physics is relevant when learning about orthodontics and radiography.

The standard of English in potential dental nurses must be reasonably high, writing and reading – to ensure accurate charting and record keeping, to communicate effectively with dental technicians when writing a la b chitty for a three unit bridge, for example, or when ordering stock. Speech must be clear and audible in order to communicate with patients and other members of the dental team well.

I.T skills are advantageous as many practices are part or fully computerised.


To successfully provide excellent chairside assistance it is important to have good manual dexterity, instruments must be passed and received correctly, particularly where four or six handed dentistry is concerned needles, endodontic files, mercury, and various other items or materials must be dealt with in a safe and careful manner.

Good eyesight is vital to the dental nurse, not only to enable them to effectively maintain a clear and dry working field for dentists, but also for handling small or delicate equipment, for correctly charting a patients treatment plan, and for selecting drugs such as antibiotics for patients, and much more.

Nurses must be observant and must be able to concentrate for long periods of time, some treatments can take a long time to provide, and it is important to continually observe the patient, for example in preparation for a possible medical emergency, and of course to ensure the patient is comfortable.

Organisation is a key skill required to be a good dental nurse, it is the very nature of their job. It is critical  in each task they undertake, from accurate record keeping to disposal of clinical waste, so is a definite must have!


Nurses must be able to communicate well with a variety of people, primarily patients,  who can range from young children to elderly and physically disabled people. Nurses must give post operative instructions to patients, they must explain particular aspects of treatment, and be able to calm and reassure patients when needed, they must also be friendly and approachable. It is of utmost importance that nurses communicate well with the dentist to ensure a  high standard of patient care and treatment is provided, nurses often point out a relevant point in a patients’ medical history prior to them entering the surgery, or update the dentist on any equipment repairs  that are being carried out e.g. handpiece repair, they must share information effectively about all aspects of their work with the dentist throughout their working day. They must also successfully communicate with dental laboratory staff, dental supplies teams, dental representatives , the rest of the dental team, and more.

Patience is required when working with the public, particularly when they’re in a stressful or busy environment. Nurses must be courteous, polite helpful and friendly. It is important to work well under pressure.

Although the dental nurse must be able to use their initiative at times during their work, they must also work well as part of a team.

Dental nursing is a varied and interesting career choice which is always evolving. There are many topics nurses can choose to study further  to gain extra qualifications if they want to. Anybody with the right skills and knowledge, commitment and motivation can succeed in being a good dental nurse.

About the author

I’ve been a dental nurse for over 13 years, and have worked in various parts of the country in orthodontic practices, general dental practices, within the community dental services, for both NHS and private practices. Within that time I’ve seen quite a few changes, not only with the way services are provided, changes in laws and regulations but also with the use of new materials and more advanced treatments. The one thing that hasn’t changed at all in my time as a dental nurse is the importance of people receiving and understanding clear information about dentistry, treatments, regulations and jobs for example.


  1. Helen Lanksford says:

    I Have a Dental Nurse Qualification and 10 Years Experience But have not worked as a Dental Nurse for 21 Years – What to I need to do before I start applying for Jobs?

    Many thanks for your help


  2. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Helen, thanks for your e-mail, and welcome back to the world of teeth!

    The first thing you have to do if you’re hoping to get back into dental nursing is to register with the General Dental Council (GDC). You will also need to get yourself some indemnity insurance – the easiest way to do this is to become a British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) member. Both of these are now a legal requirement and will cost you initially but if you contact your tax office once you’ve paid up they’ll adjust your tax code so that you can earn a bit more money before you’re taxed.

    Before you start applying for jobs I would recommend that you have something on your CV to show potential employers that you are keen to get back into the job and are making an effort to update your knowledge about the profession, laws, treatments etc.

    You could ask the BADN if there are any refresher courses that you could do but personally I’ve never come across any, if there arent any available I would contact either the British Dental Association (BDA) for advice about updating your knowledge or contact a local dental nurse training company and find out if you can attend classes even if you dont need to sit the exam, if you’re not prepared to pay for refreshing your knowledge then at least you can tell a potential employer what you need to do and whats available to you, dentistry has changed so much even in the last decade that its vital for you to update your knowledge. You could buy the latest Levisons Textbook for Dental Nurses and subscribe to a few dental nursing magazines such as ‘Vital’ or ‘Dental Nursing’ too – subscribing to these magazines could be an ideal way for you to start getting some Continuing Professional Development under your belt aswell, (another legal requirement for dental nurses).

    You will need to contact your GP for a blood test to see if you need a hepatitis B injection or not. You must ask your GP to provide a copy of your blood test results once it has been established that your hep b is up to date as a copy must be given to your employer for their records.

    I feel that if you just rely on a new employer to re-train you, it will make finding a job more difficult and it may also be an excuse for your employer to pay you less than you feel you are worth, afterall you have experience of dealing with patients and have a core knowledge of many aspects of the profession, even if there have been lots of changes since you last did it as a job. Do what you can to ‘wow’ your potential employers!!

    There are links to the GDC, BADN, BDA (and even amazon for the textbook) on my website if you are struggling to find their websites. I hope I’ve been of some help to you, and if you do find any information about refresher courses could you let me know please? That way I can blog about it and help other ex dental nurses out there who are hoping to get back into the profession.

    Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

  3. shabina says:

    are there any courses i can do in dental receptionist ?

  4. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Shabina,
    thanks for your question. There aren’t any specific courses or exams you can take to become qualified as a dental receptionist, but there are lots of qualifications which will help you if this is a career that interests you. There is lots of information which you may find helpful in the post ‘Dental Receptionist’ in the ‘Dental Jobs’ section of my website, have a look and see if it helps you at all.

  5. eritzi85 says:

    I do not have any Dental nurse experience or qualification but I am willing to have one and especially I am very keen to learn. But i do not know from where to start?

    Currently I am not working, so you can imagine that is a little bit difficult to pay for a course which takes at least 1 year. I have lots of customer service experience working with all kind of people.

    Please give me any suggestions.

  6. Dental Nurse says:

    The best way for you to get into dental nursing without having to pay for your course is to find a job as a trainee dental nurse. Employers will pay for your dental nursing course if they are satisfied that you are keen to learn, and manage to pick up the practical side of the job well. Obviously this means you should look everywhere you can – local newspapers who advertise jobs, job websites and perhaps your local jobcentre for a trainee dental nurse position.

    In the meantime I would advise you to try and get some work experience in a dental practice – even if you just observe what goes on in a normal working day in a dental surgery it would be advantageous and show that you are keen, as would any other research you choose to do (like you are doing – reading blogs on my website). This would also look good on a CV, which I would also work on before applying for jobs.

    Hope I’ve been of some help. Good luck.

  7. Cat says:

    Hi, I wonder if you can give me advice…I began work as a dental nurse back in 1991 as a teenager, I was trained on the job and it was before the days of a recognised qualification. I left in 2000 to take a brief career change in IT, again, before qualifications were made compulsory.

    I have since had a career break after being at home raising a family, and now as my children are in school, I would really love to get back to working as a Dental Nurse. As I am unqualified, but experienced and prepared to take my qualification, where do you think I stand from an employers point of view?

  8. Dental Nurse says:

    Hello Cat,

    Thanks for getting in touch with me. Its great that you want to get back into dental nursing!

    From an employers point of view you sound like you’d be a great candidate for a job. As you say, you are experienced and seem keen, and the fact that you have IT experience will probably work in your favour too! However you need to keep in mind that there have been a great number of changes within the dental profession since 2000, particularly with regards to sterilisation, compulsary registration, compulsary CPD and of course having to have, or be working towards, a recognised qualification.

    If you really are keen to get back into dental nursing you may find that you will end up applying for some trainee dental nursing positions as obviously, you need to learn all the up to date information and prepare for your exam to qualify (which most employers will pay for on your behalf).

    Due to the fact that your employer will more than likely be paying for you to gain your qualification, you may find that you dont receive a fantastic wage or salary initially, but of course this depends entirely on your employer…..you could get lucky!!! But if it results in you having the qualification you need, to do what you want to do, perhaps this period of time will be worth it in the long run?

    Unfortunately there are no specific rules and regulations to speak of, regarding pay in line with amount of experience. I would suggest that you just get yor CV up to date and apply for as many dental nursing jobs within a reasonable travelling distance as you can, and why not try applying for jobs not specifically aimed at trainees? As all of the above totally depends on your employer it’s definitly worth a shot, if you get invited for interviews you can find out if what yor employer is offering suits you or not, and if not just keep applying elsewhere until you find something that does suit you!

    I hope I’ve been of some help to you, and good luck with the dental nursing!


  9. karina says:

    hello katy. i have an interview as a trainee dental nurse next week what do i need to know in preparation? questions i could be asked?

    thank you

  10. Dental Nurse says:

    Hello Karina, thanks for getting in touch.

    If you know the basics about what being a dental nurse involves, e.g. assisting the dentist while treating patients (including charting of existing treatment and treatment to be carried out), cleaning, sterilising, maintaining and storing instruments, management of the surgery on a day to day basis from equipment checks to ensuring lab work is present to ensuring patients medical histories and radiographs are up to date, reassuring and helping patients while in the surgery, keeping all patient information confidential, then there isn’t much preperation for you to do for your interview.

    You can read up on training as a dental nurse, the role of a dental nurse, what is CPD and first aid in the dental practice (all of which can be found on my website). Showing that you are genuinely interested in working as a dental nurse should stand you in good stead.

    No employer will expect you to know all there is to know about dental nursing if you have applied for a trainee position, most dental nursing knowledge is learned on the job, and with experience comes a greater understanding of dentistry in general.

    Just make sure that you are friendly,approachable, open and honest, and that you show your enthusiasm for the role on offer in the interview. Of course take an up to date CV with you, dress smartly, and remember you are applying for a medical position…….dont wear lots of make up, have clean short nails etc, and do your best.

    There are hundreds of questions that could be asked, but as I say, if you have some basic knowledge about the role and are honest in your interview, you should be fine!

    Hope I’ve been of some help to you. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.


  11. Eva says:

    Hi, i am qualified dental nurse just for a few months as i have been working for about a year and half as a trainee dental nurse. i would like to apply for Hygienist/Therapist course but i would like to get some more experiences and also to gain some qualifications which could help me with my application, could anyone help me please?
    thank you

  12. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Eva,

    I would definitly advise you to get some more experience before applying to be a hygienist/therapist….they’re tough courses to get on with only a limited number of spaces!

    As far as gaining other qualifications goes, I would just do anything you can related to dentistry, radiography would be a good start, first aid, anything that shows you’re widening your knowledge and exprience. I would also look into where you intend to eventually do your hygiene/therapy training because a lot of these places need you to have A levels too!. Remember it may take a while to gain these other qualifications and the courses are’nt cheap, so set yourself a reasonable goal and go for it!

    Good luck.


  13. Eva says:

    Thank you Katy,

    i want to apply at University of Portsmouth but before to apply for Hygiene
    i wanted to apply for Foundation Award in Science and therapy, as i dont have
    A levels and its because i have been qualified in Slovakia(my country) and
    the system of education is different. i think i should not hurry and get some
    qualifications and experiences before i apply, i just want to do something more than just dental nurse as i like educating myself.

    Thank you


  14. danni says:

    what skills do you need to be a :
    1)dental nurse
    2)dental hygenist
    3)dental technician

    hope you can help me thanks danni

  15. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Danni,

    You can read some quite detailed information on the skills that you need to be a dental nurse, hygienist or technician, by looking in the ‘Dental jobs‘ section of my website. Each job is discussed in detail in these blog posts. You may also be interested in the information in the ‘Dental courses‘ section of the website, so have a look and see what you think.

    Hope this answers your questions.


  16. Dental Nurse says:

    Hello Eva,

    Thanks for your comment.

    It seems like you have made a plan for your future here in the U.K. I’m sure you have done your research into the qualification you need in order to potentially become a student in dental hygiene at Portsmouth University but if you are at all unsure, contact the university and check that you are going to do an appropriate foundation degree.

    If this is indeed the right qualification for you to work towards then I would suggest researching local education centres and locally held courses where you can go to study towards this foundation degree.

    Its a great idea to bide your time and gain more experience and other qualifications before you do apply to Portsmouth University, the more you have on your CV to show that you are keen to work towards your final goal the better.

    Good luck Eva,


  17. Rebecca Bond says:

    I am currently training as a dental nurse and attending college in the hope of gaining my NVQ level 3 qualification but question is ,should I during my training spend time with other nurses observing what they do as most trainees on my course have done this . I have raised this with the dentist I am working for but he has ignored me but I feel that I this is a gap in my training and may let me down if I wish to progress.

  18. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks for your comment. I personally did the National Certificate exam when I qualified as a dental nurse so am no expert on the NVQ. However, I have worked with several nurses who have chosen this route to gain their dental nursing qualification and I can honestly say not one of them has spent time observing other nurses as part of their training, so I doubt you’d be missing out on much if you don’t spend time observing others in surgery.

    I can understand why you would want to observe things such as implants, orthodontics or specialist endodontic treatment if you have no experience of these yourself, seeing the practical side of these things can help hugely with gaining an understanding of the theory behind such treatments.

    If you are keen to observe other nurses working in surgery, why not speak to your college tutor and see if they can help, or, alternatively contact a surgery who have different working hours to you, e.g. evenings or Saturdays, and see if you can arrange to spend some time with them on ‘work experience’.

    I hope this has been of some use to you.

  19. Kerry says:

    I completed and passed my national dental nursing exam in may 2008, however i only completed 18months chairside and now wish to get back into dental nursing, after a 2 and a bit year break, will i be able to just register with the gdc and start nursing again to gain my next 6 month chair side for me then to be fully qualified!


  20. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Kerry,
    I would advise you to contact the GDC with your question. I don’t think you need to be registered until you are qualified, but obviously you are in an unusual position in that you can’t receive the qualification you have already gained until you have two years chairside experience…….tough one to answer I’m afraid!!
    I believe the GDC will be the most knowledable people to talk to.

  21. Payal says:

    DO I need to do A-levels before I start any qualification and please if you could kindly tell me in steps which course to pick and maybe if you know how many years it will take for me too complete.

    Thank you

  22. Dental Nurse says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    There is a blog post giving information about qualifications needed in order to be able to train as a dental nurse in the ‘courses’ section of the website, it also tells you about the types of courses available and how long they take to complete,have a look and all the information you need should be there.


  23. Ilona says:

    Dear Katy,
    First of all – thank you for your blog! It is really helpful.
    I am trainee dental nurse , my course will start next week. Could you advice, please, which books are ‘must to have’ in that topic?
    Kind regards,

  24. holly says:


    I am starting a new job on monday as a dental nurse, and i am really scared that I wont be any good, as I literally dont know anything about what I will be doing!
    Is it easy to pick up from not knowing anything? and any tips?

    thank you

  25. Nicola King says:

    I have an interveiw tomorrow for a trainne dental nurse, I have been out of work for many years and have always wanted to persue a career in this feild have you got any tips on having a succesful interview.

    Nicola KIng

  26. Bee says:


    I am a fully qualified dental nurse and I also have the dental radiography certificate, I have applied for a job with the NHS working with patients with special needs. I have been a Dental Nurse for 6 years and am really nervous about the interview!
    What kind of questions do you think I’ll be asked? I am confident about my job role, just nervous about the fact their is going to be a panel of interviewers!

    Thank you
    Kind Regards

  27. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Ilona,

    Thanks for your comment! The one book that will be your bible is the latest Levisons Dental Nursing textbook. There are other handy books such as Dental Nursing by Mary Miller, and others about dental instruments etc, but really, the only one you’ll need to begin with is the Levisons book.

    Good luck with your course!


  28. Dental Nurse says:

    Hey Holly,

    Welcome to the world of dental nursing! Don’t worry about the fact that you don’t know anything about the job yet…..most dental nurses start out with as little knowledge as you when they begin their training. Just take an interest in everything you do at work and have confidence that you will eventually understand it all and remember the names of instruments etc. Don’t worry if you struggle to remember things to begin with, thats totally normal, but take an interest, make a concious effort to stay switched on and you’ll be fine.

    Good luck,

  29. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Nicola,

    I’m sorry my reply is a little late.

    A few simple tips for future interviews would just be to;

    Present yourself well…remember you are applying for a medical job ( short clean nails, hair tied back)
    Smile and be friendly
    Try to be confident in yourself – remember if you are given the job you will have to deal with and speak to all sorts of people from all walks of life
    Do a little bit of research in to general points about dentistry and dental nursing so that you can show that you are genuinely interested in the job

    Good luck,


  30. Dental Nurse says:

    Hello Bee,

    Don’t be nervous about the fact that there will be a panel of interviewers! You deal with all sorts of people on a daily basis in your job so you can be confident in your interview……remember the interviewers are just people doing their job, so don’t feel intimidated by them!

    I would imagine that the questions you will be asked will revolve specifically around the job that you’re applying for, so do as much research into the job as possible, and into what your role would be!

    Do some research and stay confident!

    Best of luck.


  31. Lusa says:

    HI Katy

    is it okay if i do BETC biology will it still help or not in order to become dental nurse?

    Many thanks

  32. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Lusa,
    If you are interested in studying biology and are particularly interested in a BTEC course, then go for it! It won’t do your CV any harm. However, you would probably be able to get a job as a trainee dental nurse without this qualification!

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