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Put a Smile on Your Face

Peering into people’s mouths and having a poke around doesn’t sound like much fun, but dentistry is a great career choice. We fill you in…


It’s one of the most hated sounds in the world. But if you think you could get used to hearing the dentist’s drill everyday, and you’ve got a steady hand, an interest in caring for people and a talent for science, then dentistry could be the career for you.

Two universities in Scotland offer full degrees in dentistry; the five-year courses on offer at the universities of Dundee and Glasgow both lead to a BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) qualification, which allows you to practise as a dental surgeon. The BDS covers a massive range of subjects, including anatomy, pain relief, forensic dentistry, radiology and treating patients with dental phobia.

Facilities at the dental schools in Glasgow and Dundee mirror those you’ll find in professional practice, with labs, sedation suites and emergency facilities. And because dentistry is such a hands-on career, clinical work is something you’ll get involved in quickly, as John Drummond, Admissions Officer for the Dental School at the University of Dundee, explains: “We try to get students into the clinic as early as possible, and link the science together with the clinical practice. The majority of clinical teaching is done via one-to-one contact with a member of staff supervising.” Students at both universities have the opportunity to work with real patients early in the degree, and this continues throughout, with fifth year students at Glasgow’s Dental School working virtually full-time in outreach clinics across the west of Scotland as part of their training.

Dentistry is a highly respected career choice, because people know you’ve got to be a pretty smart cookie to get into a dentistry degree. The University of Dundee asks for five As at the first sitting of Highers – Dr Drummond told us that it’s the hardest course to get into at the university – and students wanting to go to Glasgow need AAAAB by the end of S6, with at least AABB at first sitting in S5. In order to be accepted onto a course, you’re expected to have qualifications in scientific subjects such as biology, chemistry and maths. However, a small number of students (usually three or four per year) who have attained A grades in arts subjects at Higher level can top up their science knowledge by undertaking a pre-dental course before the full dentistry degree at Dundee.

In addition to achieving high grades, potential dentistry students will usually be interviewed and must undertake the UK Clinical Aptitude Test. Universities use this to select the best candidates, since many are so highly qualified. It doesn’t test scientific knowledge, instead it focuses on exploring your mental abilities and other vital attributes which you’ll need for a career in the field.

Once you’ve completed your BDS, you must register with the General Dental Council then undertake a period of probationary work, often referred to as VT (vocational training) where you’ll be supervised and trained while working at a surgery. Then, once you’re qualified, you’re free to apply for any dentistry positions that suit you. Perhaps you’ll be attracted to the travel and adventure of the Armed Forces, which are often in need of dental surgeons to care for troops. Or maybe you’ll go into cosmetic dentistry, helping to straighten teeth, whiten smiles and restore confidence.

A career in dentistry brings many rewards, as John Drummond explains: “It’s demanding work. But the employment prospects are very good and it gives you the opportunity to do a job that’s worthwhile with many different career avenues.” The teamwork aspect of the job might be another element you really enjoy, with the chance to work alongside dental hygienists and nurses. But then again, it might be the financial rewards which motivate you to get out of bed every morning. According to the NHS, dentists on their vocational training year can expect to be paid around £28,000. Senior dentists with management responsibilities can enjoy a rather attractive maximum of £70,497 a year, and extra hours spent working on call, in private practice or in cosmetic dentistry can help to top up an already impressive income for many in the profession.

Dentistry provides a variety of interesting roles, and the chance to work with people and help to improve their health. It’s not all drilling holes and wearing big glasses!

Students studying for a BDS in Scotland are entitled to a bursary to help them through the course. Launched this year by NHS Scotland National Education Services and the Scottish Executive Health Department, the £4,000 bursary is available from the second year of the course onwards. Students can only claim the funding if they agree to work for a set number of years after graduation (including their vocational training year) within NHS Scotland. If you claim the bursary for one year, you’re contracted to work for the NHS for two years; if you claim it for two years, you’ll need to work in NHS practice for three years,
and so on.

Freya Jack-Smith is undertaking the BDS at the University of Dundee. Currently in her fourth year, she opted for dentistry because she was looking for a challenging career: “I wanted to do something where I could help people, and which had aspects of practical work and academia.”

Freya has found the course really interesting so far, particularly the work she did around embryology, which involved studying the development of dental tissue in the womb. However, she acknowledges it’s not an easy degree: “It is very hard work – there are no illusions about that! You have to put in a lot of work and we have exams three times a year.” Despite all this, Freya says: “The social life is great here because the student body comes together as a family which is really good fun. It makes all the hard work worth it.”

Find out more
General Dental Council
020 7887 3800

UK Clinical Aptitude Test

University of Dundee Dental School
01382 384 697

University of Glasgow Dental School
0141 211 9600