Rebecca Silver is a multi-award-winning dental nurse who was worked in both NHS and private dentistry, as well as with numerous dental specialists. She has also gained post-registration qualifications in oral health education and conscious sedation.

What were your career goals when you joined the dental nursing profession?

When I first started dental nursing in 2009, I just needed a job. Not going to university and a move 120 miles down south meant I didn’t really have any long-term goals. I wanted a job so I could start earning some money and be able to begin enjoying my new life in London.

A few weeks after being hired at my first job I was sent on an infection control course. The presenter was Sandra Smith, a dental nurse who had a degree in infection control and worked for what was then the Primary Care Trust (PCT). Seeing this woman with her qualifications pushed me to start seeing dental nursing as a career, not just a job. I very much believed, and still do, that if she could do it, why can’t I? Plus, I’m a very competitive person!

You have a number of post-registration qualifications, and you recently gained a master’s degree in Advanced and Specialist Healthcare. What made you want to study for these?

After obtaining my NEBDN certificate in 2011, I didn’t really have a plan. I knew I wanted to do more, but what exactly “more” was, I wasn’t sure. One day I was looking through the eWisdom courses (courses subsidised by the then PCT) and noticed the oral health education (OHE) course. After making some financial calculations, I decided to apply for it – and luckily, I was accepted.

My tutor for this was Jane Dalgarno, and she became another strong influence on my career. She had the calming nature of a dental nurse but the strength of a woman who knew what she wanted, and how she would obtain it. After meeting Jane, I became more aware of the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN). I joined in 2013 and I obtained my OHE certificate later that same year.

After moving practices, I was fortunate enough to be presented with an opportunity to complete my post-registration qualification in conscious sedation. Jane directed me to a sedation course, where she was my tutor again.

After achieving my conscious sedation qualification and attending a few BADN annual conferences, I became aware of the existence of a foundation degree in advanced dental nursing. I applied, was accepted, and achieved my foundation degree with distinction in 2018.

As a result of my membership of the BADN, I had met a number of influential dental nurses who had further education and degrees specifically pertaining to their career. I decided that I wanted to study for a master’s degree because I believed it would enable me to make a greater difference to the dental nursing profession.

How did you balance studying with working?

I think that I was lucky, in a sense, because I have no dependents and no pets. This allowed me the freedom to become quite selfish with my time and deadlines. I worked five days a week and obtained a foundation degree and a master’s degree over five years. If you spoke to my work colleagues, they would say they don’t know how I achieved it, and looking back, I don't know either! But I knew it was something that had to be done because I had a goal, and the way to obtain that goal was to put the time in. My favourite saying was always, “Once I’ve finished my MSc!”

What was it like working towards your master’s degree during the pandemic?

Difficult. Draining. Emotional. Intense. Never-ending. Pick an adjective. I felt all of these emotions and feelings during the pandemic. For me it wasn’t just about the workload, it was about how I actually worked. I find working from home very difficult and have always completed university work in other places, including the campus library. But closures meant that I had to completely change the way I worked.

This was coupled with the fact that London was plunged into an extreme lockdown just before Christmas 2020, and with the dark mornings and dark afternoons, there were times I didn’t feel like I was ever going to be able to finish my dissertation, especially because patients needed dental nurses more than ever at this stage. We became an information hub, and patients were asking us questions about the pandemic because they saw us as trusted healthcare professionals. But it meant that our problems seemed to be put to the back of the line and it was hard to bring it back to the front once I needed to write my dissertation.

Nevertheless, with lots of tears, support and chocolate, I submitted my dissertation in April 2021, and in August I was notified that I had obtained a MSc in Advanced and Specialist Healthcare (Applied Dental Professional Practice) with a merit.

How have post-registration qualifications benefitted your career?

I feel that in terms of practical application, my OHE and sedation certificates have definitely benefitted my team and me the most.

Working closely with a specialist periodontist and dental hygienist and having obtained my OHE certificate meant that when a patient asked me questions, I could answer confidently. The specialist endodontist also used my OHE certificate, especially if a patient attended with a perio-endo but primarily perio. There was a patient who I saw in 2020 who I gave oral health advice to and recommended the use of green interdental brushes between certain teeth. When the patient finally saw the periodontist in early 2021 (after being delayed by the pandemic) and talked about their oral health regime at home, they mentioned that they were still using a green interdental brush (not the same one, fortunately!). The patient told the periodontist that I had advised her to use this and why I had done so. I felt quite proud knowing that the interdental brush was still the correct colour and size, and that the patient remembered it was me who told her this information.

With regards to sedation, having an onsite dentist with extra training as a sedationist meant that I was the sedation dental nurse. If the sedationist needed to treat their own patient with sedation, then I would work closely with her and the patient. It also meant that if I was working with a different dentist or specialist, I could provide information regarding sedation before they had booked in for a sedation consultation. This allowed patients to make decisions before proceeding with treatment. Some patients decided they still wanted to proceed with a sedation consultation, but others just wished to proceed with treatment without the need for sedation.

How do you think your master’s degree will benefit your career?

Having an MSc appears to put me on an even footing with some clinicians. It shouldn’t be the case that my thoughts and ideas will only be listened to now I have those letters, and many dental nurses who have already obtained them can tell you that to some, it doesn’t make a difference – but I like to think it will make more people sit up and take notice.

Have there been any drawbacks from pursuing further education?

The only negative I can think of for me has been the cost versus the return. Studying is very expensive – you’re not just paying for course fees, but also textbooks, laptops, travel and hotels. If someone thinks that the financial return will be amazing in the short-term, then I have some bad news for them! I’m not saying that the return will never arrive, but I want dental nurses to understand that it may not be immediate. If you can put in the time and effort now for a reward later on, then I would still recommend pursuing it, if that is what you really want.

What advice would you give to dental nurses wanting to pursue further education?

I would say that they need to think about these questions before applying to anything:

  • What subject do you want to study?
  • Why is that subject important to you?
  • How much does it cost? (Bearing in mind that course fees can be separate from exam fees and record of experience fees.)
  • Is it face-to-face or online learning?
  • Are classes on a weekday or weekend?
  • What happens if you want to pause the learning?
  • What happens if you don’t pass the exams?
  • Do you have the option to implement your qualification in practice?
  • Will the caseload be manageable?
  • Do you have the support of your dental practice?
  • Do you have the support of your family (if you have a partner and/or dependents)?

After answering these questions, I would recommend that they research dental nurse training companies, as the General Dental Council sets the education guidance. Make sure the company you proceed with suits your learning style. Speak to fellow dental nurses who have undertaken these courses. This allows you to get an honest view of the course. Sometimes online reviews don’t match what people experience, and every experience is different.

What are your career goals for the future?

To start my own dental nurse advisory group – coming soon!