Dental Nurse Job Description

Dental nurses aid dentists and other staff members in a dental office. The job title is used commonly in the United Kingdom, but people who perform such a role in the United States generally go by the term “dental assistant.”

Dental nurses may work full- or part-time hours. Since dental offices often have evening or weekend hours to better serve customers, dental nurses may have to work those shifts. Since they spend a good deal of time on their feet, it helps for dental nurses to possess good stamina. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of dental nurses, classified under “dental assistants,” to increase a whopping 19 percent between 2016 and 2026. Part of the growth may be due to the aging of baby boomers, who likely will seek dental services in an effort to maintain their own teeth. In general, all age groups are expected to continue seeing the value of preventative dental services, which will raise the need for dental practices.


Dental Nurse Duties and Responsibilities

Both patients and dentists rely on dental nurses to do what they can to provide a positive experience. If you’re scouting job postings, you’ll likely see these core duties listed:

Health Procedures

Dental nurses provide a variety of services designed to assess the condition of patients. They commonly ask questions to complete a medical history and perform acts such as checking blood pressure and pulse. Depending on their training, dental nurses may take and develop x-rays or set casts for models of teeth.

Patient Assistance

Dental nurses provide a friendly face for nervous patients. They help keep people calm and informed. After a procedure, they may go over care instructions, such as when to change bandages or what medicines can be taken to relieve pain. Likewise, dental nurses routinely offer advice on proper teeth brushing techniques and the importance of flossing.

Dental Assistance

As members of the dental team, dental nurses do what is necessary to keep procedures running smoothly. They may ensure an area is clean and stocked before a procedure starts and then work alongside the dentist to adjust lighting or suction off saliva. One of their key responsibilities is regularly sterilizing instruments and equipment so that germs are not spread.

Administrative Tasks

Dental nurses may be assigned office tasks such as answering the phones, scheduling appointments, calling to remind patients about upcoming cleanings, ordering supplies, and dealing with billing/insurance issues.


Dental Nurse Skills

Successful dental nurses take pride in their efforts to provide quality patient care. They are highly organized individuals capable of multitasking in order for things to get done. Dental nurses also possess outstanding interpersonal skills that create trusting bonds with those they serve. Other traits desirable for dental nurses include:

  • Following directions thoroughly
  • Respecting patient confidentiality
  • Displaying empathy for people who are frightened of dental treatment
  • Exhibiting good hygiene since they come into close contact with clients
  • Committing to safety procedures
  • Knowing proper terminology for dental equipment


Dental Nurse Tools of the trade

As they perform their duties, dental nurses may use the following:

  • Computers – to input patient data, schedule appointments, and deal with billing
  • Phones – to place calls reminding customers of upcoming dental procedures
  • Dental lighting – concentrated lights designed to provide dentists with a clear view of the mouth
  • Sterilization equipment – used to sanitize dental instruments and machines so that germs do not build up or get transmitted between patients
  • Disposable gloves – used to maintain good hygiene during dental procedures and changed with each new patient
  • Dental instruments – specialized tools dentists use when working on a person’s teeth
  • X-Ray machine – a device used to take images of teeth
  • Cast – a mold of someone’s mouth created by putting the teeth into dental plaster and allowing the impression to harden
  • Blood pressure cuff – to conduct pre-treatment blood pressure screening


Dental Nurse Education and Training

A common way for a person to become a dental nurse is to complete an accredited certificate or diploma program through a community college or vocational institution. Such studies take about a year and involve both classroom work and supervised practical experience. Others opt to do two years of study and receive an associate’s degree. Some aspiring dental nurses do not enroll in post-secondary studies but instead receive on-the-job-training directly from an employer. Licensing requirements vary by state and by the nature of tasks performed.


Dental Nurse Salary

The median annual salary for dental nurses, classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as dental assistants, is $36,940. Dental nurses in the 10th percentile earn about $25,460 a year, and the highest paid make about $52,000 a year. Dental nurses in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Alaska make the highest median salaries in the U.S. – $46,620, $45,980, and $45,330, respectively.


Dental Nurse Resources

Whether you’re interested in becoming a dental nurse in the UK or a dental assistant in the U.S., plenty of sources exist that can help you get on your way. A few to peruse include:

American Dental Assistants Association – The mission of this group, which has been in existence for more than 90 years, is “advancing the careers of dental assistants and promoting the dental assisting profession in matters of education, legislation, credentialing, and professional activities which enhance the delivery of quality dental health care to the public.” Check out its website for the latest industry news and connect via its social media channels to folks sure to be helpful in providing insight and answering questions.

Dental Assisting National Board – Learn about the certification process and how it might enhance your career opportunities on the website of this organization that has been around since 1948.

American Dental Association – The go-to place for everything related to the dental field, this organization’s website has a plethora of information in its “career” section on how each dental team member contributes to the entire oral health experience.

Society of British Dental Nurses – This not-for-profit serves as a way for dental nurses to gain a collective voice, learn more about their profession and advance their career prospects.

Levinson’s Textbook for Dental Nurses – Written by the former chair of the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses, this book helps students preparing for their dental nurse qualification to master key concepts. A companion website provides self-assessment exercises designed to test knowledge.


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