If you’ve ever suffered from tooth pain, you’ll be more than aware of how invaluable the dentistry service is. As of 2019, the average salary for a dentist is at or around £50,000, making this a very attractive position to prospective healthcare students. However, in your moment of pain and desperation for your toothache to stop, did you notice anyone else in the consultation room with you? Dental nurses are a vital part of the dental healthcare system, providing vital on-hand support to dentists and performing special tasks which help in the efficient provision of care. However, dental nurses have some of the lowest salaries of specialist healthcare workers, often earning less than £9 an hour. This is perhaps disheartening to those nurses, who like their other nursing colleagues, provide a highly experienced, vital service to the practitioner and patient in facilitating accurate, pain free and sanitary dental procedures.
You may find yourself asking – what does a dental nurse ACTUALLY do? One of the fundamental roles of a dental nurse is to ensure dental equipment is prepared, maintained and kept sterile during and between procedures to control infection and ensure health and safety standards are met. Alongside this, nurses may input data relayed to them by their practitioner partner during routine dental check-ups. This can be a really vital part of the job to maintain integrity in data collection and to record details, history and observations throughout consultations – the noting of which is imperative to good-practice in healthcare. Further to this, dental nurses may have special training in the use of certain dental tools to assist the dentist during procedures – such as dental suction devices which remove saliva, blood and other dental surgery fluid. Finally, the dental nurse also provides the invaluable role common to all nursing professions – maintaining a friendly, reassuring hand to the patient and easing their worries by providing utmost care.
After reciting all of the above roles, it is perhaps surprising to find that dental nurses in some parts of the UK earn under just over a minimum wage salary, despite the specialist training and crucial role they play. Furthermore, when taking into account the registration, indemnity and private training certification, it is dazzling to observe the relative lack of monetary support for those providing such a vital healthcare role. But why are dental nursing salaries so low? There are calls for professional bodies such as the British Association of Dental Nurses to formally published wage and salary guidelines for dental nurses to avoid a ‘dilution’ of salaries by bosses without adequate knowledge of the role. As with many roles – the salary does depend on the employer. Some private dental practices may provide and cover indemnity, certification and insurance, as well as an above average salary. But the reality for many is a national minimum wage job which demands well over the odds in terms of clinical responsibility, the demand for experience and the responsibility of care to patients.
Partly, bodies like the British Society of Dental Nurses blame the maintenance of the dental nursing apprenticeship, something which has historically tied certain careers to a lower pay banding. The logic behind this is that if a role can be performed adequately at apprentice wage (£6.15 an hour for 18 year olds, £7.70 for 21 year olds), it must not require a better wage on qualification, especially as these qualifications are less prestigious than degrees. This archaic thinking is damaging to the growth of dental nursing as a career, as it discourages prospective and current employees away from a career without much growth due to an outdated mentality. Many maintain that dentists simply cannot work without their nurse, something which is certainly true of hospital clinicians and nurse care teams. Although nurses have a much wider scope of specialism and are required to uphold many different roles, dental nursing is absolutely imperative to the maintenance of clinical excellence. It is therefore crucial that dental nursing salaries are increased fairly to reflect this and promote a growth of new and passionate nurses into the world of dentistry.