Getting the most from an associate dentist position

Whilst every dentist will have their own clinical interests and career goals, there are several ways to ensure that you are utilising all the opportunities afforded by working in an associate position. Here, we look at what the role of a dentist is, what it might entail and what benefits come from working in this position.

Key Role Considerations:  

  • Patients – Some may be challenging, but it is the patients you interact with everyday that will make your professional life a joy. Being able to make a real difference to their quality of life is often the greatest reward of working as a dentist in the UK in any capacity.
  • Less Pressure – Practice ownership is a goal for many dentists, but working as an associate eliminates the pressures of running the business, including areas such as compliance, staffing, finances and marketing.
  • CPD – Many principals will provide or facilitate skill development, with many group practices offering training on core topics for free or at a discount.
  • Postgraduate Qualifications – There is often the opportunity to pursue a postgraduate degree and the freedom to re-negotiate contracts to allow time for academic study.

A day in the life of a dentist 

What is a typical day for an associate dentist in the UK?

Associates work in dental practices as either non-owner employees or independent contractors. Such employees take an active role in a dental practice working alongside a practice owner under a signed associate agreement. Here we give you an example of a typical day in this job:

🕗 08.00 Arrive at the practice, check through appointment schedule and patient notes in preparation. There should be time for a cuppa and a quick chat with your dental nurse to make sure you’re both ready for the day ahead.

🕣 08.30 Mr Woods is welcomed into the surgery for his routine check-up. You work through the standard questions to make sure his medical history and current medications are all up-to-date in your records. A full clinical examination is conducted, including oral cancer screening, and Mr Woods is advised to visit the dental hygienist for a professional clean.

🕘 09.00 Miss Gates attends for her scheduled endodontic treatment, which is performed without any problems. Oral hygiene instructions are provided and a review appointment is advised for the following week.

🕚 11.00 Having moved things around for the day, you see Mrs Hatfield next for an emergency appointment. Her upper left crown seems to have come off while she was eating an apple and requires replacement. Impressions are taken for a remake of the crown in the laboratory, while you and your dental nurse reiterate the importance of chewing on the other side of her mouth in the meantime. A radiograph demonstrates no pathology so she goes on her way to wait for the new permeant restoration.

🕛 11.45 Mrs Smith brings her two small children – 1 and 4-years-old – for their routine dental check-up. The youngest is a little apprehensive about her first dental visit so you spend some time talking to her  and showing her the chair. You then perform an assessment on her older brother to demonstrate what will happen. She’s happy to get in the chair while holding her mum’s hand so you ask her to open her mouth while sitting up. This seems like enough so you give both young patients a sticker chart and ask mum to bring them back in 6 months.

🕐 12.45 Lunch time! You catch up on a bit of reading in the staff room, re-fuel and then head back to the dental surgery to prepare for the afternoon with your dental nurse.

🕜 13.45 Next you’ll see Mr Jones to review progress of his orthodontic treatment. He’s had clear aligners for the past 6 weeks and alignment is almost complete. You take new photographs and compare current tooth positions with that on the digital model that predicted the end result. You take an impression so that you can order a couple of refiners from the laboratory. You also talk to the patient about whether he would be interested in some tooth whitening to further enhance his smile. Mr Jones loves the idea and so you provide instructions for using the at-home whitening kit he will be using for the next two weeks.

🕒 14.45 The remainder of the day is dedicated to Miss Pots, who is scheduled for a single implant placement in the upper right quadrant. As a regular attender for many years, you know her well and you were her first choice when she lost a tooth due to a sporting accident. Miss Pots gets settled in, you explain the procedure one more time and administer the local anaesthetic. When ready, the implant is placed exactly according to the digital plan and guide you created previously. A healing cap is placed and Miss Pots is given all the necessary information on pain killers and oral hygiene before she meets her parent in the waiting area ready to go home.

🕔 17.00 Some time to catch up on paperwork. You check all patients notes for the day and update them wherever you need to. You make a note to call Miss Pots at lunchtime tomorrow to see how she’s doing.

🕠 17.30 As another day comes to a close, you bid the team a good evening and go on your merry way.

Every dental environment is different 

Now, while the above is an example of a day in the life of an associate, this may vary significantly depending on where you work and what areas you are most interested in. A working environment for a dentist can vary depending on the size of the practice, which can range from a single practitioner to a large partnership with several associates. Dentists can also work in both NHS and private dentist roles, within independent practice or corporate groups. There are also different processes to follow to become an associate, depending on where you qualify. Below are some examples of how the environment may differ:

NHS – You would typically see more patients than in the day in the life example above, if you’re providing predominantly NHS dentistry. There would be more check-ups and essential dentistry like fillings, crowns and dentures. You would also be required to meet a target for UDAs within the year. The perksare that UDA values can be quite high in certain areas of the UK and you’ll get to see a lot of different people if this is what you enjoy. A challenge in this environment can be the time constraints of seeing patients in a short appointment time.

Special Interests – As an established dental associate, you may decide to focus on certain treatments over others. For example, you might primarily provide GDP orthodontics, restorative dentistry or dental implants, or restrict your practise to one area entirely. Depending on what type of dentistry you provide, your typical day will alter from the above – for instance, dental implantology will reduce the number of patients you see each day, while GDP orthodontics might mean you see all adult patients.

PLVE – The Performer’s List Validation by Experience (PLVE) is the process by which Performer Numbers are awarded to non-UK/EEA dental graduates who have gained sufficient clinical experience and training in their home country to work in the NHS in the UK. Professionals must hold a full GDC registration and apply directly to practices that hold an NHS contract. Following a job offer, they can apply to the relevant authority in that area for their Performer Number via the PLVE process.

EEA Dentists – A significant percentage of dentists in the UK are from the EEA, especially when it comes to those who work within the NHS. Any dentists from the EEA with primary qualifications specified in the relevant EC Directive can register with the GDC and work in the UK.

Dental Associate Jobs

Our tips for getting the job you want

Getting the right associate dentist job in the right dental practice is key to personal satisfaction and career development in this role. Here is some advice to help you land the dream employment!

Initial Preparation

  • Create a strong CV with your achievements in the correct order. Make it no more than two pages and in .doc format
  • Double check spelling and grammar. Then check again!
  • Explain any and all gaps in employment
  • Include plenty of content detailing your current role and your responsibilities
  • Prepare a cover letter
  • Make sure you have researched the dental practice to understand what you could bring to the table
  • Only apply for dental assistant jobs you actually want
  • Change the privacy settings on your social media accounts to protect your personal/social information and photos
  • Prepare a case portfolio of your work, with particular emphasis on any specialist areas where appropriate
  • Ensure you have all of the relevant qualifications and registrations if you’re from EEA or outside.

Julie Wilson

Speak to our associate recruitment consultant today! Julie specialises in helping permanent clinicians find work with independent NHS practices and private clinics.

Contact Julie, our specialist recruitment consultant


  • Have written references prepared
  • Take certifications of CPD, additional clinical and business courses you may have undertaken
  • Arrive early for your interview and always present a clean and fresh appearance
  • Show your enthusiasm and passion for what you do
  • Ask about the practice, in particular ask about what happens when it comes to you taking over a patient list or growing your own.


  • Send a ‘thank you for your time’ email to your interviewer – it’s just polite.

Dental Elite provide a highly experienced team of recruiters who work with associate dentists and other candidates to find their perfect job.
Call our experts today on 01788 545 900. You can also sign up online and make applying for new vacancies easier.

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