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What Does a Dental Nurse Trainee Do?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dental nurse trainee generally spends his or her days working in a dentist’s office, and studies at night and on weekends for dental nurse qualifying exams. The specific dental nurse training requirements vary by jurisdiction, but most of the time, the position is somewhat like a paid internship or apprenticeship. Trainees are not usually students. Rather, they use their training experience to substitute for university-level education. Most will sit for a series of exams at the conclusion of their training, which will earn them a dental nursing certificate or diploma.

The main goal of a dental nurse trainee is to master the basic skills needed to succeed in a dental nurse career. This usually comes in two main sectors: hands-on learning and book learning. The hands-on portion normally happens in a dentist’s office. Trainees often act as junior assistants, looking on, learning, and building skills. When not in the office, a dental nurse trainee is usually studying to sit for qualifying exams in order to become credentialed and work more independently.

During the day, a dental nurse trainee typically acts as an assistant to dentists and full-fledged dental nurses. The job of the trainee is mainly to observe, but with time, he or she is often able to practice and perform basic procedures. A trainee may begin by organizing administrative records and patient files, but can advance to include patient interaction, teeth cleaning, and oral hygiene maintenance.

Completing a trainee program is often the first step in dental nurse career planning. Trainees usually get to try their hand at a lot of different skills and observe complex procedures. They are usually encouraged to ask a lot of questions and receive structured guidance and criticism from more senior practitioners. In many countries, this period of observation and hands-on learning is required for career advancement.

Traineeships are almost always designed to enable participants to combine work experience with independent study. Most of the time, trainees have evenings and weekends free to study for national or regional qualifying exams. Exams are different by jurisdiction, but most of the time they are structured to test both practical knowledge and text-based learning.

Some trainees take exam review courses, but most studying happens alone. Dental nursing associations typically publish study guidelines and materials for candidates to review, and practice exams are usually available as well. Some questions are formulaic, but many are designed to assess whether the candidate has completed the requisite training. While it may be possible to pass a certificate exam without having completed a formal traineeship, this is not usually permitted by the testing boards.

When a dental nurse trainee passes his or her exams, more permanent dental nurse positions become attainable. Sometimes, an initial trainee job placement will transition into more permanent employment. Trainee positions are not always designed to lead to a full time job, but it often works out this way. Much depends on the trainee’s disposition, his or her skills, and how he or she interfaced with the more permanent members of the dental practice.

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Discussion Comments
By mobilian33 — On Nov 17, 2014

@Drentel - I can relate to what you wrote about all of the people in the dentist office when you went in for a visit. This was along time ago, but when I first started going to the local dentist, he had one assistant.

This assistant was the only other staff member in the office. She did everything from making appointments to assisting the dentist with dental procedures. Now it seems like they have a new person every time I go in for a checkup, and they have a special person to do every individual job.

By Laotionne — On Nov 17, 2014

I have a friend who is a dental hygienist. When she was in dental school and taking classes, she was able to get experience by working in the dental office at the school. Dental students need experience, so dental schools often offer free or reduced-price services to the general public.

This type of program is a perfect way for students to get practical experience, and the patients who come to them are able to save money and get dental work they might not be able to afford at a regular dentist office.

By Drentel — On Nov 16, 2014

The last time I visited the dentist's office I was surprised by all of the employees who were working there. This was a new dentist for me. My old dentist moved to a larger city, so I had been putting off finding a new one. Then I got this coupon in the mail for discounts for new patients so I decided to try out this office.

I didn't actually count all of the workers, but there were a lot of them, and they wore different color uniforms. The color of the uniform indicated what there position was, I think. Some f them must have been dental nurse trainees or some type of trainees because I don't think the dentist could afford to pay them all if they were full-time salaried employees.

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