Dental specialist – the pathway to specialising

Considering what I now know, it is crazy to think that I was set on becoming a special care dentist. Nothing to do with being a dental specialist or the specialism itself.

I came to this decision after a few Google searches researching the different specialisms. At my interview I even spoke about this ‘dream’ of mine during my application to dental school. Had I even met a special care dentist before? No. As a dental student I was still faced with the topic of specialisation. It felt as though this was the natural progression for an ambitious dentist.

There will always be a need for dental specialists but working as a general dentist provides many opportunities to develop and progress within dentistry. This became apparent during my first year as a dentist. Braces and the scope for a general dentist to deal with mild and moderate orthodontic cases fascinated me. Who knows, in the future I may choose to become an orthodontist. I have decided to put together a summary of what it takes to become a dental specialist and briefly described the specialties within dentistry.

The path to specialise can be summarised as follows:-

  • Complete a dental degree in order to obtain a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS). You could choose to work as a private dentist doing general dentistry at this point
  • During your final year of dental school you would have chosen to apply for a dental foundation training (DFT) year. This is a national recruitment process and is competitive, especially to get your preferred location
  • Complete the DFT year to gain an NHS performer number. You can now treat patients under the National Health Service (NHS) as well as privately. You also need this performer number to apply for Dental Core Training (DCT)
  • Apply for DCT during your DFT. This is another national recruitment process

A Dental Core Trainee has to have completed DFT. In year 1 and 2 of DCT you cover a range of specialties. Year 3 is usually in a specific field.

  • Spend 2-3 years in DCT within a hospital and apply for a specialist training post which is extremely competitive
  • The specialist training post you get can range from 3-5 years depending on which specialty you have chosen. Orthodontics would be 3 years for example
  • At the end of specialist training you do a membership exit exam and get a certificate of completion of specialist training
  • You are now a dental specialist and can work as a consultant within the hospital or privately

There are 13 specialisms recognised by the General Dental Council

SpecialismDescription
Dental and Maxillofacial RadiologyInvolves medical imaging to provide information about anatomy, function and disease states of the teeth and jaws
Dental Public HealthNon-clinical with a focus on the prevention of oral diseases with emphasis on promoting oral health to the population. Dental health needs are assessed and reviewed to design services that meet the needs
EndodonticsA focus on diseases and injuries to the tooth root, pulp and surrounding tissue
Oral and Maxillofacial PathologyAssessing tissue changes characteristic of disease of the oral cavity, jaws and salivary glands. Involves laboratory-based personnel
Oral MedicineCare of patients with chronic recurrent and medically related disorders of the mouth and with their diagnosis and non-surgical management
Oral MicrobiologyTreating facial infection, mainly bacterial and fungal in origin. Involves laboratory-based personnel to provide reports and advice from samples taken
Oral SurgeryTreats and manages irregularities and pathology of the jaw and mouth that require surgery
OrthodonticsThe development, prevention and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite and jaw
Paediatric DentistryComprehensive care for children from birth through adolescence. Particularly those who demonstrate intellectual, medical physical, psychological and emotional problems
PeriodontologyAssessing and treating diseases and disorders of the gums and other structures around the teeth
ProsthodonticsReplacing missing teeth and associated soft and hard tissue by prostheses (dentures, crowns, bridges) which may be fixed or removable
Restorative DentistryReplacing missing teeth, repairing damaged teeth including full mouth rehabilitation incorporating Prosthodontics, periodontics and endodontics
Special Care DentistryImprovement of the oral health of individuals and groups in society with physical, sensory, intellectual, mental, medical or social impairment. There is often a combination of these factors
* Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery is seen as a medical speciality instead of dental and you would require dual qualification in medicine and dentistry
In this video I summarise the path from aspiring dentist to becoming a specialist

For updates to this information check these pages:

General Dental Council – https://www.gdc-uk.org/registration/your-registration/specialist-lists

Royal College of Surgeons – https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/dental-faculties/fds/nacpde/eea-qualified-dentists/specialists/

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