Dentists provide advice and assistance on maintaining good oral health. They work with patients and the general public to prevent and treat dental and oral disease.

They lead the dental team and have the skills and confidence to diagnose and treat problems. Most dentists provide routine dental care in general practices across Scotland.

Dentists in NHSScotland specialise in different areas of dentistry that include:

  • General Dental Service (GDS) – they provide a full range of NHS treatments to patients registered at practices. Most people use GDS as their first point of contact for NHS dental treatment.
  • Public Dental Service –they treat patients within the community unable to attend a dental practice
  • Hospital Dental Service – they deal with complicated or challenging cases
  • dental public health – they assess the dental needs of the local and national population

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To become a dentist, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Maths
  • Physics

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

Universities like to see two weeks of relevant work experience from applicants. You would need to contact dental practices to organise this.

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, but Highers are the usual route. This gives you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.

At college, you could do an HNC or HND to set you on the right path.

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

To practise as a dentist in Scotland, you must complete a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS). This takes five years as an undergraduate and one year as a vocational dental practitioner. The universities in Scotland where you can study dentistry are:

  • University of Dundee
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen course is a graduate-entry, four-year course. You will need a 2:1 degree in a related subject to apply.

Fitness to practice

Dental schools expect you to meet the requirements of the General Dental Council (GDC) for fitness to practice. You need to undertake occupational health screening for blood-borne viral infections before starting the course.

Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)

Some universities may ask you to complete the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). They will test to determine if you have the personal qualities, reasoning and decision making skills needed for a career as a dentist. Your university will inform you if you must sit the UKCAT.

Vocational (foundation) training

After graduating from university, you must complete a one-year foundation training programme before getting a GDS contract in your own right. You’ll be based in an approved dental practice with an experienced practitioner as your trainer. Once you have completed training, you are eligible to hold a Health Board list number, which allows dentists to work as associates or principals in an NHS general dental practice.

Core training

Dental Core Training (DCT) is a flexible training programme that follows on from vocational training. It lasts between one to three years. Recruitment to DCT posts in Scotland normally takes place in April or May.

After every six months, you will be expected to complete:

  • one round of 20 patient assessment questionnaires (PAQs)
  • 20 workplace-based assessments
  • attendance at the full education programme
  • two meetings with the educational supervisor

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

The role

As a dentist, you’ll give preventive advice and treat problems affecting the mouth and teeth. You will use your knowledge of human anatomy and oral diseases to educate, diagnose and treat patients.

You could correct dental irregularities or treat dental and facial injuries. Your work will also be preventive. It will be your task to help patients protect their teeth and gums from decay and disease.

What you’ll do

Your main tasks include:

  • carrying out oral examinations
  • carrying out clinical treatments, such as fillings
  • educating patients on oral healthcare and dental hygiene
  • diagnosing dental conditions
  • assessing treatment options and agreeing on treatment plans with patients
  • referring to specialists for certain types of treatment
  • maintaining dental records of patients

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • accuracy 
  • caring for people
  • communicating with people
  • leadership
  • planning
  • problem-solving

Who you’ll work with

You could work with:

  • orthodontic therapists
  • dental technicians
  • clinical dental technicians
  • dental nurses
  • dental therapists
  • consultants and other specialists

Working environment

You could work in:

  • community clinics
  • care homes
  • hospitals
  • dental practices

Useful information

To work as a dentist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

Dental students in Scotland can receive £4,000 each year if their annual household income is less than £34,000. This is by applying for the Dental Student Support Grant (DSSG). They must commit to working in dentistry in NHSScotland after they graduate.

Learning and development

Once qualified, you must register with the General Dental Council (GDC).

As a dentist, you would be expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This is in order to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. In each 5 year periods, you must complete 100 hours of CPD activities that are relevant to the sort of work you undertake.

You must do this to maintain your registration with the GDC.

Career Progression

Progression is possible to role of associate or partner in a dental practice. With enough experience, you could also start your own practice. You’ll be in control of managing staff, budgets, equipment and the maintenance of your practice.

You may also begin specialty training. This can take three to five years, depending on your speciality. In Scotland, the specialty programmes available include:

  • dental and maxillofacial radiology
  • endodontics
  • oral surgery
  • orthodontics
  • paediatric dentistry
  • restorative dentistry

If you move into hospital dentistry, you can take further specialist training within a hospital setting. Courses for specialist qualifications are available here:

In hospital dentistry, you can follow a defined career structure. With these qualifications, you can progress to more senior posts.

Within Public Dental Service, experience can be gained as a clinical dental officer. You will have the chance to gain further qualifications through part-time studies. With this, you could progress to a senior dental officer. You may then be responsible for treating patients with special needs or in areas such as epidemiology.

If you carry out work in universities in dental schools and teaching hospitals, you can progress to senior lectureship or a professorial post. You will need additional postgraduate qualifications.