The special role of the dental nurse remains obscure in many intriguing ways. The overarching goal of this piece is to shed some light on the role and professional responsibilities of dental nurses, as well as the training and registration requirements that they must adhere to.
Dental nurses are uniquely vital team members of the healthcare career ladder who assist in all types of dentistry treatments and work in all sorts of dental specialties. The primary function of the dental nurse is to provide ancillary support to dentists as they deliver care to patients. Dental nurses work collaboratively at the chairside with dentists during the completion of oral surgeries and other procedures and treatments.
Very few licensed dental nurses are employed in the United States; thus, their role remains very shrouded in mystery to most folks who dwell in the US. In fact, many people in the US have never even heard of a dental nurse. In addition, the majority of dentists in the US prefer to use dental assistants and dental hygienists as a way to contain labor costs. After all, a dental assistant is usually less costly to hire than a nurse.
Nonetheless, dental nurses are heavily utilized in a number of other countries, especially the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Malaysia. Dental nurses are also utilized on a much smaller scale in several provinces of Canada, especially Ontario.
A dental nurse works at the chairside next to dentists as they provide ongoing care during patients’ visits. Some of the tasks that dental nurses may do include the following: obtaining health histories, taking and recording vital signs, performing assessments, applying numbing agents to patients’ gums prior to invasive treatments, administering topical fluoride, and providing postoperative education after oral surgical procedures.
Dental nurses might also be responsible for routine duties such as preparing materials, sterilizing equipment with autoclaves, reordering supplies, taking x-rays, obtaining impressions, and making sure the appropriate instruments are available to the dentist during treatments. Also, dental nurses might be responsible for clerical tasks such as answering telephone calls, scheduling appointments, and processing payments.
The minuscule number of dental offices that utilize licensed dental nurses in the US are ones that perform a large number of oral surgeries. These surgical procedures require specialized assessment and observation of sedated patients after administration of local or general anesthesia, so these dental practices may hire and use licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs) with post anesthesia care unit experience.
In other countries, most dental nurses secure employment in a variety of workplaces that include general dentistry clinics, oral & maxillofacial surgery practices or orthodontic offices. Additionally, other dental nurses can be found working for the military, dental hospitals, office management, nonprofit agencies or other public organizations.
In the UK, dental nurses must be registered. Since 2008, it has been mandatory that all dental nurses be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). In addition, it is unlawful to use the title of ‘dental nurse’ without the appropriate registration. To become a dental nurse in the UK, a prospective student can enroll in a post-secondary program at a dental hospital or school of dental nursing to obtain practical training.
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