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.