Become A Dentist

With transferable Military experience and skills, you could become a high street dental practitioner.

You may well have dental training and experience from your time in the Services, in which case you will at least have some insight regarding the sorts of everyday occurrences that you’ll be faced with. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that any qualifications you’ve gained in the Military are directly transferable, there are no shortcuts to becoming a dentist.

The basic requirement is a bachelor’s degree (either BDS or BChD) from an approved dental school followed by further training related to your selected specialty. The standard duration of the degree course is five years and is a combination of academic study and practical training and will also take in a wider range of health topics than just dentistry. Entry requirements for dentistry courses vary between different dental schools. (For candidates with non-science A-levels, pre-dental courses are available. These take one year and introduce chemistry, physics and biology as a preliminary to the five year degree course.)

For graduates who already hold a 2:1 (or better) degree in subjects related to chemistry or biology there may be the option of taking an accelerated course of just four years.

Heading towards specialty

Once graduated, candidates are required to take on further postgraduate education (at the dental school) that will complete their training and/or lead them into a particular field of specialty.

The first stage is Dental Foundation Training (DFT) which takes a minimum of one year full-time (or a part-time equivalent). This is spent in primary care, providing NHS general dental services, and allowing completion of statutory Vocational Training. (DFT should normally be completed within three years of graduating from dental school.)

This stage of training may take place as part of a longer, two year period of an integrated dental foundation programme, in which the remaining time can be completed in a variety of primary and secondary care settings, complementing (not duplicating) experience gained under the Vocational Training period.

The second stage of training is for those wanting to work in hospital dental services (in orthodontics, restorative dentistry, oral medicine, oral pathology, paediatric dentistry, or academic oral surgery) who will then undertake a period within a hospital, gaining general experience of the range of hospital specialties.

Some candidates aim to become oral and maxillofacial surgeons and will follow the same route as other dental specialities but will also need to complete a medical degree and qualify in medicine before or during the training period.

Lifelong learning

Medical and dental practice is of course, highly regulated and dental practitioners are expected to make every effort to keep their skills sharp (and professionally up-to-date). The General Dental Council consider that it is “the ethical duty of dentists to continue to undertake appropriate continuing education for the duration of their professional practice” and since January 2002 continuing professional development (CPD) has been mandatory for all dentists on the UK Dentists Register.

There are a wide variety of short courses that can be taken for CPD purposes or dentists may wish to apply themselves to longer post graduate learning/training opportunities on a part-time basis.

The General Dental Council states, “recertification requires dentists to complete at least 250 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) over five years. A minimum of 75 of these hours must consist of Verifiable CPD and the remainder can be made up of General CPD. We have advised dentists to spread their CPD evenly over the five years where possible, i.e: to undertake 50 hours of CPD per year. This means that dentists will be looking to undertake an average of 15 hours of verifiable CPD each year.”

Individuals can find out more about continuing professional education by contacting the postgraduate dental dean at their Local Education and Training Board (LETB). Details can be found at:

Different skill requirements

Any Service-leaver with medical qualifications will find themselves in a position of strength in terms of their prospects on the job market but it is definitely worth considering that the challenges ahead will be very different to those you’ve already dealt with.

The expectation for you to reach high professional standards will remain; particularly if you start your own practice – and you’ll want to grow a reputation for quality. However, whereas in the Services decisions are made almost purely on clinical grounds, back on civvy street your patients are likely to have budgetary concerns (and limitations) and you may need to be able to justify treatments and their costs – or be canny enough to find suitable and safe alternatives.

Whereas medical staff in the Armed Forces enjoy all-but clinical freedom, you’ll now be dancing to a different tune. People skills are going to be far more important in your future as a dental practitioner and you’ll need to be able to build trust and rapport with patients especially where complicated or costly treatment is concerned. Remember that a second opinion is a mere street away and although NHS dentists are not easy to come by, patients can also choose to use private operators as well.

The other major difference regarding civilian dentistry is that you’re likely to see many different sorts of patients. Although, of course, you’ll have seen variety if you’ve Served in a combat theatre, you won’t, for example, have treated many children or elderly people. Again, part of the skill is in your ‘bedside manner’ and management of patients.

Dentistry on civvy street is still a highly rewarding career choice although you’ll need to accept that it takes place within a commercial and competitive market. It won’t be enough to just be a good practitioner; you’ll need to have excellent people skills as well as a handle on the administration side of things, depending on what kind of role you carve out for yourself.


• British Association of Dental Nurses

01253 338360,

• Dental Technologists Association

01452 720413,

• General Dental Council

020 7167 6000,

• NEBDN (National Examining Board for Dental Nurses)

01253 778417,


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