(Original post by muchomungo)
I am a qualified dentist. I'm writing this post because I want to forewarn people who may be going into dentistry for the wrong reasons and will live to regret it.
Firstly myself, I come from a dental family, but was never forced into it.
You would not have met anyone who wanted to be a dentist more than me. It was an obsession, a life's ambition I was determined to realise. My reasons for doing it?
Hard to nail one in particular, but I suppose a combination of the desire to join a profession (high status), seeing how well members of my family had done and how they never had any financial worries (lots of money) and watching Ricky Gervais' The Office and thinking all office based jobs would be like that (i.e. a lack of boredom)
I'll try and make this as concise as possible...
The BDS course itself
- a very long, rambling, highly academic education (not really training) that is almost like going back to school again. You'll likely make great mates as I did, but most of the courses across the UK have nowhere near the level of clinical contact required to turn you into a competent and confident clinician.
You will emerge from the 5 years unable to cope with anything except the simplest of clinical scenarios. Twenty years ago the course lasted 4 years and 1 term. There was no VT year. You could start normal general practice almost immediately. Today it is 5 full academic years and they are talking about making VT 2 years as they feel students still do not know enough to practice independently. I think you get the message.
Clinical sessions are like gold dust and some students at a certain London dental school are in uni TWO and A HALF days per week in their final year. You can leave uni with only having taken a few teeth out and done a few fillings. You will however, leave knowing absoloutely tons of theory about things that your professors are interested in (e.g. tooth wear) which no one in the real NHS world has the time/money/expertise to do anything about. The other thing to remember is that there are obviously loads of exams. How many depends on your individual school. But, the one I went to had them all in 1 week in November, so really you didn't need to open a text book for almost the entire year lol.
The relationships with tutors are challenging. If someone takes a personal dislike to you, they can fail you at their discretion which makes life horrible while you wait to find out if you'll be allowed to proceed to the next stage. As a result, there's loads of backstabbing, sucking up to people you dislike and near constant stress.
Of course, learning all this new stuff (and the practical work) is a novelty and can be interesting and fun. But training to be a dentist is like climbing Mount Everest and the feeling you get when you open the envelope saying you passed your final exam is like no other.
Now the job itself and why you need to think very very carefully about what you are getting yourself into. I'll try and do it as a series of points.
1. The real world is TOTALLY different to the dental school. In uni, you are concerned with climbing the mountain as mentioned. In the real world, you have to make money for yourself and others. As a result, there is much more pressure than before.
2. In the UK, NHS and dentistry are virtually synonymous. You cannot get away from the fact you will have to do NHS work for the majority of your career. There really are not that many private jobs and the ones that do exist are gonna go to people with years of skill and experience. That doesnt include you as a new graduate.
3. Forget about the money. Dentistry is not a lucrative job anymore in England. You're probably all dreaming of fast cars, big houses and exotic holidays. Well let me tell you that, unless you own a busy practice(and have people working for you), it's difficult to earn more than £50K as an associate dentist now. Why? Because individual items on the NHS are so poorly paid (eg molar root canal £30) you will have to see at least 30+ patients a day if you want the six figure salary.
That's not easy at all. Some people can do it, but the majority will hate that sort of life. You won't appreciate how it feels to see that many patients until you are sitting there doing it. Dental school keeps you protected from that reality. Remember also, most dental school tutors are failed general practitioners themselves. Notably since 2006, you are not paid per item, but per treatment course..meaning you get paid the same for 1 filling (Band 2) as for 10!! Result? You need to work much faster.
You're probably thinking, "just go private"...easy to say but read point 2 and also be aware how bad the economy is and the fact that people always have the NHS safety net which they see as their entitlement.
4. The dental job market in the south of England is appalling. Many want to be in London. London jobs have between 70 and 100 applicants for each job!! Outside the south it's better. The jobs are often for very large NHS contracts which means you have to see a huge number of patients and work long hours or your money will not be paid to you. I don't know of a single young dentist who has done well job wise in London. You'll almost certainly have to leave.
5. I used to think that just because you were a dentist, you would be guaranteed loads of money. Wrong. You are self employed in most cases. This means you don't automatically get paid per month. If no one walks thru the door..you don't earn anything. So you need a busy practice. London NHS practices are not busy. Crazy I know, but ask any young dentist who has worked in one. You'll be lucky if you fill 2 days. That's not going to buy you a Porsche. If the practice is busy, you'll have to see someone on average every 15-20 mins if you're an NHS dentist.
6. The new English NHS contract in 2006 changed everything. It means less money, fewer jobs and most notably, you cannot set up an NHS practice from scratch anymore (known as squatting). This means that the entrprenerial aspect has been curtailed. You can still set up a private one if you have £250K+ but there's no guarantee you'll get the patients who will pay the high prices you'll have to charge.
7. There's competition from EU ascession country dentists now. Prior to 2004, they were not allowed to live/work here without visas and overseas registration exams. They can now compete with UK grads on an equal basis and will often work for less.
8. Many practices have been taken over by large companies known as "corporates". These run dentistry like a factory and will treat you as a blue collar worker and dictate to you what you can and can't do and will often take ages to pay you.
9. Perhaps the thing I was least prepared for however, is how monotonous (and stressful) the job actually is. It really is very dull at times and many days are exactly the same. I use maybe 15% of the knowledge acquired in uni. The only thing that makes it interesting is if you have a nice patient to chat with or they make you feel like you've really helped them. Specialising is something uni profs will go on about. That costs £1000s and there's no guarantee of a job after. Plus it pidegon holes you even further so all you do is 1 type of treatment.
Bear in mind that you also have to work with some extremely difficult dental nurses. They are often young females with a serious attitude problem and you are stuck in a small room with them all day doing a stressful job.
10. It costs approx £3000 a year just to practice. This is insurance fees and profession registration. Also be aware how wary you must be of the ever present threat of litigation.
What I have been talking about is general practice..ie high street dentists. Loads of my colleagues have chosen to stay in salaried hospital jobs longer to avoid the
above issues. However, this is just a delaying tactic. You won't earn decent money in hospital unless you are a consultant. This takes years and its a greasy pole. And the longer you stay in hospital, the harder it will be to go back to general practice where you will have to see 30+ patients again.
In conclusion, I hope I have dispelled myths about the dental profession in England. I'm merely just trying to give people a very frank account of dentistry today. I was so keen to be a dentist and the reality of the job is just not what I imagined. Many young dentists feel this way, and I can see so many youngsters who have a starry eyed approach to this profession. My advice would be- if you genuinely want to practice dentistry, and are willing to do it quite often for free or very low cost then pursue your dream.
If not then please realise there are much, much easier ways to make £50k a year.