Training as a Dental Nurse

Training Dental Nursing

To become a qualified dental nurse there are two possible routes available to take. Dental nurses can either take the National Certificate for Dental Nurses examination or take an NVQ National Vocational Qualifiacation course resulting in a recognised qualification. Both courses vary in the time they take complete, but those wishing to take the National Certificate should be aware that the certificate can’t be awarded unless candidates have at least two years full time chairside experience.

Entry requirements

There are no formal qualifications required in order to complete a course which results in a recognised dental nursing qualification, but there are certain subjects, Biology, Chemistry, English and IT that would be advantageous for candidates to have a good understanding of as they are relevant to the work they do.


The National Examining Board for Dental Nurses (NEBDN) have, up until recently, been solely responsible for the examination taken in order to qualify as a dental nurse. The National Certificate was, for many years, the only course available for dental nurses to take in order to qualify, however, since registration and other professional obligations e.g. CPD have become compulsory, the alternative route – NVQ has become available.

Courses are held at dental hospitals, technical colleges, or at various venues around the U.K such as health centres if they are privately run courses. For details about courses run locally to you, it is best to contact either NEBDN – or the British Association of Dental Nurses – for those interested in the National Certificate, and for the NVQ contact .

Health records

Like many dental care professionals it is essential for dental nurses to be vaccinated against hepatitis B, this involves an initial blood test, followed by a series of vaccination injections and another blood test to ensure the vaccination has worked. You can sometimes need a ‘booster’ injection, but this is becoming less and less common. As with all vaccinations, dental nurses must contact their own GP to arrange for this to be done.

If you are working in a dental hospital you will be required to provide a detailed personal medical history.

On the course

The National Certificate usually takes approximately eighteen months to complete as students usually attend college for either one full or half day a week.

Topics covered on the course include, anatomy and physiology, anatomy of a tooth, medical emergencies, dental materials and instruments, dental treatments – fillings, crowns and bridges, dentures, implants, infection control and sterilisation, health and safety, patient management, and much more.

National Certificate exams take a full day and are structured, they consist of;

Written exam

  • Part A involves multiple choices, labelling a diagram and short answer questions related to diagrams, more short answer questions and charting
  • Part B involves the writing of four essays (choose four of five specific questions)

Practical exam

  • Spotter – twenty items to be correctly identified
  • Part A involves mixing of a dental material
  • Part B involves ten selected items which students must describe the function of
  • Oral (viva) involves verbal question and answer session with examiner

A new requirement for those taking the National Certificate exam is a record of experience, which must be completed before candidates are given entry to the exam; it is designed for dental nurses to provide evidence of practical abilities within their working role. This is split into five sections and a case study, and is done while on a training course. Course providers will give information and advice for dental nurses who must complete a record of experience.

Useful books for those taking the National Certificate include the ‘Levisons Text book for dental nurses’ (most recent edition), and Question and Answers for dental nurses’ by Carole Hollins.

The NVQ taken by dental nurses is called NVQ level 3 oral health care: dental nursing. Basic knowledge is pretty much the same as for the National certificate but rather than purely sitting a formal exam, candidates are assessed and tested by local assessors and witnesses in the dental nurse’s work place, it can be a less stressful approach for dental nurses to take. The course is broken down into modules and candidates keep a record of their progress for their assessors to sign off and approve. It can be completed at candidates own pace but there is still an exam to sit, although it is much less demanding than the exam for those taking the National Certificate.

The NVQ exam consists of three sections;

  • Multiple choice and short answers
  • Medical history questions
  • Charting

Both exams are marked by NEBDN examiners. A useful textbook for those taking the NVQ is by Carole Hollins and is titled ‘NVQ’s for dental nurses’. Textbooks can be bought by clicking on links on this website.

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. Linda Richardson says:

    I wonder if you could offer me any advice. I would like to train as a dental nurse, but unfortunately any training schemes near me are only available to 16-19 year olds, I feel I have a lot to offer as a mature student and don’t mind hard work. The problem I have is finding a practice needing a trainee. Is it worthwhile sending out my cv and letters to surgeries in my area?

    Kind Regards

  2. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for your e-mail. It can be quite frustrating when you are looking for a trainee position in your area and nothing is available!

    Firstly I would contact some local surgeries – even if they’re not advertising any dental nursing vacancies and just ask if they have anything available at present, if they don’t, you could suggest that you send them your CV anyway and ask if they would keep it incase any positions do arise in the future. Its amazing how many practices will contact people who have previously enquired about a job before they spend money on advertising a vacancy.

    I would also try sending your CV to some agencies who advertise dental jobs on behalf of dentists e.g. medi-cruit, they are very good at contacting you whenever any positions arise in your area, and are a good way to get into the profession!

    Of course keeping your eye out for jobs in local papers and job centres is also a good way to find out about any jobs that become available.

    If you can get any work experience in a dental practice it will be advantageous to you as it will show potential employers that you are keen!

    I hope I’ve been of some help to you, and that you are successful in finding a job soon.

    Good luck.

  3. Rachel Wheeler says:

    Hello, please can you help; I have a second interview tomorrow for a Trainee Dental Nurse position. I really want this job but am panicking like hell as I have a criminal record!! Do all practices do CRB Checks!? I am so embarrassed and don’t no how or when to tell them, I have been out of work for 9 months & can’t quite believe I’ve got this far, I am so pleased & excited about it I will be the happiest girl in the world if I get this job, but what do I do :(

  4. Dental Nurse says:

    Hello Rachel,
    I’m sorry my reply is a little late, but thank you for your comment.
    There has been a big shift in the management of dental practices quite recently and most, if not all practices are aiming to become registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) at the moment. One of the regulations the CQC have in place, is for all dental nurses to undergo a CRB check in order for them to be registered.
    I would advise you to be upfront about your criminal record in order to save any difficulties later on. I’m not entirely sure about the details of how strict dental practices have to be with regards to a member of staff having a criminal record and whether or not it makes any difference if your record was for a minor offense or if it was a long time ago, all I do know is that you are likely to undergo a CRB check in this line of work.
    I’m sure this isn’t the news you were hoping to hear, but I hope I’ve answered your question.
    Good luck.

  5. fatima says:

    I am looking for a trainee dental nurse position but can not find anything.Can you please tell me how to search for it.

  6. allison kenn says:


    Would you please advise how long you can work in a dental practice as a dental nurse before obtaining professional certificaion. I have been working as a dental nurse for 18months now and the practice keep putting off my college enrolement.
    Many thanks.

  7. Dental Nurse says:

    Hello Allison,
    If you are going to take the National Certificate for Dental Nurses route rather than an NVQ in order to gain your qualification, you have to have at least two years chairside experience before you are able to sit the exam, however, as you already have 18 months experience and have not yet started your training you will definitely have adequate chairside experience by the time you actually get round to sitting the exam.

    I suggest that you keep letting your employer know how keen you are to begin your dental nursing course because working as a dental nurse but not being qualified allows your employer to pay you lower wages, and it really is not helping you to move forward with your career at all! Hassle them until you get what you want!!!

    Good luck.

  8. Dental Nurse says:

    I would look in the jobs section of your local paper, look in a local job centre and chat to staff there, search jobs websites, and perhaps contact some dental surgeries near to you and suggest providing them with an up to date CV so that if any trainee positions become available in the future that you can be considered for the post.

  9. Laura Ganser says:

    Do you know if RN’s can take a class to be certified in giving injections in the mouth?

  10. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Laura,
    I’m sorry to say I don’t know the answer to your question, I don’t really have any knowledge about RN’s…….perhaps you could ask the question on a general nurses forum…I’m sure somebody in that particular field will know!

  11. laura says:


    I am training to be a dental nurse and my final exam is in November this year and i am really struggling with the written part of my exam. I am ok in surgery but learning the theory part is difficult.

    Can you give me any help and suggestions please?


  12. Lina says:


    I got interested in dentistry recently and am keen to study Dental Nursing.
    I have some questions here if I may ask:

    1. What is the advantage of obtaining the National Certificate in DN rather than NVQ 3, What priority does it have regards getting a job?

    2. Will I be accepted as a trainee dental nurse if I am not enrolled at any dental nursing course? Which way round does it work: do I have to get a trainee job first and apply afterwards or apply for the course and start looking for the trainee job afterwards or does the college or whatever teaching authority provide placements (with salaries)?

    Thank you in advance.

    Kind regards,


  13. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for getting in touch.
    Everybody has their own way of learning and their own way of revising, you will need to find a way that works for you but here are a few suggestions;
    Work out which subjects you struggle with in particular and concentrate on improving your knowledge of them.

    Find a way for you to understand what you are learning about – rather than just memorising the facts…..try writing yourself essays, or go through procedures making notes of why certain things are done or what materials are used….whatever it is you are struggling with.

    Ask the dentist that you work with to fire questions at you throughout the working day, and if you don’t know the answer, get them to explain it to you.
    For certain things such as the order that deciduous teeth erupt, make up a memorable sentence; ‘ And Baby Did Come Early’ – A, B, C, D, E. This can also be done for facial nerves for example.

    You can try and associate amusing or memorable thoughts to particular facts, for example, I remember pretending to get upset when I was helping a friend to revise, when she asked what was wrong I said, ‘Enamel cant defend itself’ and she easily remembered that fact!

    You do need to spend time teaching yourself, but putting in the effort now will make it all worthwhile when you pass your exam! Remember just reading about a subject isn’t really going to teach you anything, so work hard and good luck!

  14. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Lina, Thanks for your comment.
    There is no advantage in the National Certificate or the NVQ route, both lead to a recognised qualification. The NVQ is better suited to those who struggle with exams, but both are designed to ensure you have the knowledge you need to become a qualified dental nurse.

    You can either apply for a trainee dental nursing job and then get a place on a training course, or find and start a training course and than find a job, I believe most training institutesa can find placements for nurses on their course.
    I hope this answers your questions fully.

  15. cherry ann says:

    I am a nurse from the Philippines and currently working as a dental nurse here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I dont have any formal training as a dental assistant, I just learned. I am planning to pursue my career as a dental nurse. How can I get the certificate? Do I have to study again? or can i just take the exam?.. Im a graduate of Bachelor of Science in nursing and im a registered nurse in the Philippines and here in Saudi. I have chairside experience for almost a year now and my contract is 2 years..
    Thank you..

  16. Laura says:

    Hi Katy,

    I have had a four and a half year break from nursing to have my children. Leaving in early 2007.
    I am now desperate to get back into nursing.

    The problem I have is I qualified just before I went on maternity leave with my son. I never received my certificate and after numerous amounts of phone calls, emails and letters to the company I did my training through I dont seem to be getting any answers.

    I have no idea which way to go about this. Do I have to do my training all over again? I never registered as that came in after I had my son…

    Any advice will be great as I really want to get back into the world of teeth!!

    Thank you so much.


  17. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Laura,

    What a nightmare you’re having!

    I would advise you to speak to the GDC and possibly the BDA about your particular situation rather than the people you trained with. If you took your exam and passed they will be the ones who have the evidence and who will be able to tell you what you need to do next, it might also be advisable to contact the NEBDN as they are the ones who will have provided the exam paper and you would have been given a candidate number from them too……having this information at your fingertips may make the rest of the clearing up of your situation a little easier.

    Registration is essential to work as a dental nurse now, but only if you’re qualified, so once you have the prooof of your qualification you WILL need to register, but don’t worry about that until you receive your certificate.

    I hope you get things sorted and that I’ve been of some help to you.

  18. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Cherry,
    I’m afraid I don’t know what the situation is with qualifications and training in Saudi Arabia, so can’t help you a great deal.

    If there is a governing body for dentistry in Saudi Arabia I would contact them for information.

  19. ayesha says:

    hi, I have applied for a trainee dental nurse apprentiship, and I have a interview on Friday, I am I bit worried because I don’t know what questions to expect, and if I cant answer a question, what do I do?

  20. Dental Nurse says:

    Hey Ayesha,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I would do some reading up on the role of a dental nurse, and perhaps some topics such as cross infection and patient confidentiality before your interview, so you have a little knowledge about the job that you’re applying for. (There is plenty of information on my website.) But don’t worry about not being able to answer any questions….it’s an interview not a test! Remember you are applying for a trainee position so you won’t be expected to know all about dental nursing….their job is to train you!

    Just be yourself, be confident and show your interviewer that you are genuinely interested in doing the job that you’re applying for!

    Good luck,


  21. nisa says:

    Hi Katy
    I want to start my career in dentistry and am looking for a trainee dental nurse position.I have handed my CV into local surgeries and have also been for a few interviews. I have done an introduction to dental nursing day course, but still not able to find a position.I wonder if you could offer me any advice.

    Kind regards

  22. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Nisa,

    You are certainly doing some of the right things to find the job you’re after, but here are a few more suggestions;

    1) Search local newspapers and job centres regularly for any trainee dental nursing positions
    2) Try to find a locally run dental nursing course and contact them….you can get information about the course from them and they can sometimes find a job for you
    3) Get email updates sent to you with local NHS jobs

    Just keep trying…you’ll get there eventually ….and remember you do have options such as RAF, Navy and Army training in dental nursing…..but you WILL need to do some research and lots of thinking if you are interested in going down the military option!

    I hope I have been of some help to you.

    Kind Regards,


  23. Corrie says:

    I have been doing the distance learning course for 3yrs now. And have taken the exam 3 times.
    I have struggled a lot. My weakness being the spotter. I have taken oodles of mock exams. I have passed these mocks, but when it came to the real thing I failed.

    I had the feeling that I would fail again if I took it again in Nov12. So I have bitten the bullet and decided to go to college. It is painfull to see that my colleugues are qualified and did the Diploma in DN. Am I going to struggle doing this diploma couse as much as I did the National cert distance learning?

  24. Dental Nurse says:

    Hi Corrie,
    You may find that learning and studying at college actually helps you to understand the areas of the National Certificate Diploma better than you did studying from home! You will have the benefit of being able to ask questions immediately if you do not understand something, and you may be given useful tips on how to remember certain bits of information that you normally struggle with!
    You should talk to your college tutor about your concerns when it comes to the ‘spotter’ part of your exam…they may have access to resources that can help you e.g. a spotter revision video.
    I would also advise you to ask colleagues to set up a spotter test for you on a weekly basis….it will be good practise! You should also consider investing in a textbook such as ‘Basic Guide to Dental Instruments’ by Carmen Scheller-Sheridan. Having a text book means that you can revise anywhere at any time and if you put the time and effort into your revision of dental instruments, you should not find the ‘spotter’ part of your exam so daunting next time!
    Good Luck!

Leave a Comment