What characteristics should you have as a Dental Nurse?

4th Jan 2023

If you want to become a dental nurse, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. This isn’t just any job; it’s one of the most demanding in the medical world. So how will you know if becoming a dental nurse is right for you? Well, let’s start by looking at some of your duties and responsibilities as well as some of the skills and qualities that make great candidates stand out from the rest. Then we can talk about how these things will help shape your future career path!

You need to communicate effectively

As a member of the dental team, communication is one of your most important skills. You will be communicating with patients, dentists and other members of the team on a daily basis.  Some examples include:

  • You will need to communicate effectively with patients so that they understand what's going on during their treatment and feel comfortable about it. This can mean explaining complicated procedures in simple terms, or simply making sure that the patient knows what procedure they are having done and why (i.e., if it's just an extraction).
  • Throughout the day you will communicate with the dentists to ensure all procedures run smoothly and that you are both aware of any last-minute changes. This can include double checking with the dentist all the equipment needed for dental treatments, or any updates provided by the dental laboratory in relation to any denture work for example.

You will need to be caring and empathetic

There will be very few patients that you will see coming into a dental practice  being all smiley and comfortable. Most will be very anxious, and some will be frightened. It is our job to try to ease their  anxiety and for this you will need to be able to show  them  that you care and want to help them. Think about how you would like your parents or grandparents to be treated when  they go into the hospital. Did you know that in a study looking at patient satisfaction, having a caring and dedicated team that would listen and not blame them for their oral health status was the most valued thing for patients. This shows us how compassion to our patients is key in being a great dental nurse.

You need to be versatile and adaptable

To do the perfect job, a dental nurse must be versatile and adaptable. By working in a dental practice, you may be working with different clinicians so being able to adapt to their way of working will help with the workflow. You will need to think quickly on your feet to provide the correct equipment needed for the type of procedure or type of clinician that you are working with. Whether these are dentists or hygienists once you have worked a couple of times with them it will all become a walk in the park. In addition, you are guaranteed to learn something new and  become more skilled. Being able to work in a variety of environments, with different people, and learning new skills quickly will help you find your preferred dental specialty.

You need to be organised and motivated

You will need to check daily that all necessary equipment and materials are available and any low stock  be replenished. Organisation and good time management will also be needed to turn around the instruments sterilised at the end of the session. Dental practices are clinical environments which need to be kept clean at all times so good organisation skills will enable surfaces and materials to be clean and in good functioning order to be used for patients treatments. These are just some examples of the responsibilities that a dental nurse has  daily to ensure procedures are not unnecessarily delayed and the dental environment remains safe at all times. 

If things get tough - which they probably will at some point - then being motivated is key  Many nurses that you’ll speak to will tell you that there is no better motivator than seeing patients having their life turned around through a smile makeover or becoming more comfortable when visiting the dental practice or even thanking you for your kindness through their dental journey. 

You will need some manual dexterity skills

A great amount of your day will involve working in the patient’s mouth and handling sharp objects. Although you don’t need to have proficient manual dexterity skills, it would help to get you started. You may already like to paint, decorate cakes, play a musical instrument or be crafty. Any of these examples will come in handy. 

You will need to continue learning throughout your career

As dental professionals deal with people, our main responsibility is to protect patients and that involves Dental nurses maintaining their knowledge by completing several courses yearly. This is necessary to prevent lapses in knowledge as well as keeping up to date with medical guidelines. As new research emerges protocols may change and dental professionals are required to provide the highest level of care and carry out duties according to the best available evidence. It is always useful to stay curious about the profession and read up about dental news and events. 

If you have been thinking about joining dentistry but are not quite sure, why not have a chat with our lovely dental training assessors at Cavity. Most of them have a background in dental nursing and will be able to give you a real opinion. If that feels too formal you can chat to one of our current dental nurses. They can share experiences of how they have started their career in dentistry, how they have progressed through various areas of dentistry and why they love it. 

So, there we have it. The world of Dental Nursing is an exciting one and there are so many possibilities for anyone who has the right skills and attitude. If you want to work as a Dental Nurse then these tips will help you get started on your journey! 

Sbaraini, A., Carter, S.M., Evans, R.W. et al. Experiences of dental care: what do patients value?. BMC Health Serv Res 12, 177 (2012).