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Dental Qualifications

How to tell if your dentist, nurse, technician or hygienist is suitably qualified

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After graduating, all dentists, dental hygienists, dental therapists and orthodontic therapists wishing to practise in the UK must be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). The GDC is responsible for standards of dental education and holds a list of dentists who are legally allowed to practise dentistry in the United Kingdom. Registration with the GDC will also become compulsory for dental nurses and dental technicians from July 2008.
Basic dental qualifications

Dentists practising in the UK will generally have the letters BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) or BChD or LDS (Licentiate in Dental Surgery) after their name. Universities award degrees, whereas the Royal Colleges award licences and diplomas. These qualifications are of equal standing, and many dental practitioners will have both qualifications since both examinations may have been taken during undergraduate study.

A dentist may have additional letters after their name indicating a postgraduate qualification, the DDPH (Diploma in Dental Public Health), for example. Some of the specialities available for postgraduate study are mentioned below. In addition, a dentist may attain various memberships and fellowships during his/her career, such as the FDS (Fellowship in Dental Surgery) and the MCCD (Membership in Clinical Community Dentistry). On a more local level, your dentist may be a member of an LDC (Local Dental Committee), which represents the interests of members of the dental profession working in a particular region, but this membership is not an indication of a qualificatoin.

Specialist qualifications

Dentist can refer to themselves as a ‘Specialist’ if they have received a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST) from the General Dental Council in a particular branch of dentistry. On completion of the training, the dentist’s name will be added to one of 13 Specialist Lists. The Specialist Lists are:

  • Oral Surgery - Surgery of the mouth.
  • Surgical Dentistry – The surgical management of anomalies and pathological processes of the teeth and their supporting structures.
  • Orthodontics – The treatment of improper bites.
  • Paediatric Dentistry – Children's dentistry.
  • Endodontics – Deals with the nerve and other tissues surrounding the root of a tooth.
  • Periodontics – The study of the supporting structures of teeth and the conditions that affect them.
  • Prosthodontics – The replacement of missing teeth with artificial materials.
  • Restorative Dentistry – Restoring the function of the teeth and their arrangement in the mouth.
  • Dental Public Health – Assessing dental health needs and ensuring dental services meet those needs.
  • Oral Medicine - The oral healthcare of patients with chronic recurrent and medically related disorders of the mouth.
  • Oral Microbiology – The study of the microorganisms of the oral cavity.
  • Oral Pathology – The study of tissue that is characteristic of disease of the oral cavity, jaws and salivary glands.
  • Dental and Maxillofacial Radiology – The creation and interpretation of diagnostic imaging.

“Understanding a bit about qualifications helped me choose a suitable dentist for my daughter’s particular needs,” said the parent of a child requiring specialist paediatric dentistry.

Continual Professional Development (CPD)

Qualifying as a dentist is only the end of the beginning. Dentistry is constantly developing and to keep up with these developments and ensure that dentists maintain and advance their skills they are required to undertake 250 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) over every five-year period. CPD is a condition of retention on the Dentists Register and all dentists have to complete it if they wish to continue practising.

Dental Nurses’ qualifications

After at least three years study and practical experience, qualified nurses register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). You can check whether a nurse is registered with the NMC by searching the Nursing and Midwifery Council's database (see Nurses then go on to specialise in a particular field. However, the NMC register only keep details of those qualifications for which they have set standards, which does not include a number of cosmetic treatments.

Dental Technicians’ qualifications

The work of dental technicians involves designing, building, repairing and adjusting dental devices for patients who have lost teeth or need help to correct their look or function. Most dental technicians specialise and work within one of the following areas:

• Orthodontics, which involves creating plastic or metal devices to re-align teeth
• Crown and bridge work, which involves constructing dental appliances which can be cemented in place
• Prosthetics, which involves producing plastic dentures or implants, some of which have metal inserts to help maintain alignment

To join the General Dental Council (GDC) register, which will be compulsory from July 2008, dental technicians will need to have completed a BTEC National Diploma, foundation degree or BSc (Hons) degree in Dental Technology.

Hygienists’ qualifications

Dental hygienists must have a Diploma in Dental Hygiene or a combined Diploma in Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy. They typically work alongside dentists, performing many complementary duties, for example:

  • scaling and polishing teeth 
  • applying coatings (eg fluoride) and sealants to teeth to help prevent decay 
  • taking dental X-rays 
  • giving local anaesthetic and undertaking temporary fillings 
  • replacing crowns with temporary cement in an emergency 
  • taking impressions of teeth and gums for crowns, bridges and dentures

In addition, hygienists also educate people about dental care, including the correct method of brushing and flossing the teeth.

Professional bodies

Dental practitioners may belong to a plethora of organisations, such as the British Dental Association (BDA) and General Dental Practitioners Association (GDPA), membership of which merely requires the payment of a subscription. The Royal Society of Medicine, for example, allows members to use of the letters FRSM (Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine) after their name, though this does not indicate a qualification of any sort, simply the payment of the annual fee.

You should check that your cosmetic dentist is a member of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD). The BACD is an organisation dedicated to encouraging the highest clinical standards by means of education, certification and professional development. For a cosmetic dentist to be listed with the BACD they must have performed at least 75 hours of verifiable post-graduate education in cosmetic dentistry in the previous two years. Anyone considering cosmetic dentistry can contact the BACD and take advantage of their referral system. Simply describe the procedure you require and they will put you in touch with a suitable cosmetic dentist

Finding the right dentist for you

High standards of dental treatment are in demand as the desire for cosmetic procedures has rocketed over recent years. However, before you rush into the first dental practitioner you see and put your dental health, and your smile, in their hands, it is essential that you carry out some research. Not only should you investigate the procedure and any possible alternatives, you also need to check up on the qualifications of your cosmetic dentist before embarking on any costly cosmetic dentistry. There are a lot of well-qualified, experienced and talented dentists in the UK, so if you have any doubts about the one you are considering, look elsewhere until you find someone that it ideally qualified for the job.

Learn more about dental treatments.

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