I’m Natalie and by trade I’m a dental nurse. Dentistry is all I know and all I’ve ever done; anything before that is just meaningless mush now. If you ask me about art, literature or music, I’ll probably just smile and play along but dentistry has become a large part of my life now. Dental nursing isn’t just about having the ability to mix up a filling in under ten seconds – although it does feel like quite an achievement – it’s also about putting your patient first in your surgery. You can often form bonds with the patients when you see them every six months, they begin to trust you, then maybe they’ll bring a friend or a family member with them and you see the whole network expand.
When you start training to be a dental nurse, you just don’t realise how much it takes over your life. No one tells you that you’re going to become a community figure. Sometimes people will wave and smile at me in the street whereas others will give me a look of terror and flee immediately, whether I recognise them or not. The most awkward was when a young child recognised me outside work then ran up to me, jumped on me and gave me a hug. The child’s mother didn’t recognise me at first but soon lightened up when I explained who I was. We laughed it off and I wasn’t arrested!
I started dental nursing 4 years ago, when I found the opportunity by chance. I saw a dental nurse apprenticeship advertised online, I thought “that would be such an easy job!” I quickly learnt otherwise. As a dental nurse, the dentist you work with will dote on you completely; you need to make sure that he has everything he needs to do the treatment. If the dentist has to move in the slightest from his seat, or even extend his arm to pick up an instrument, then you’re not doing your job correctly.
There’s a precise way of passing the instruments to the dentist where the instruments are put in the dentists hand in the direction that he needs to use them. The problem with this is that it then extends into your life outside of work – you’ll find I’ve pointed the handle of your cup towards you or that I’m passing you a knife in the correct position to cut up your steak. I’ll probably even cut up the steak for you if you look at me sternly enough.
Another way that dentistry sneaks up into outside life is when you meet new people. Imagine you’ve just met someone special, maybe you hope that they’ll become a good friend or even a lover one day, but then they ask that dreaded question. Six words, eighteen letters: “what do you do for work?” Now, I’m proud of my job, but as soon as they utter those exact words, you instantly know where your next ten minutes of conversation is going. They’re about to tell you a gruesome story about how their last dentist was a better butcher than Vic next door and how they haven’t seen a dentist since. If you’re lucky then they might even whimper the final words of “I’ve had a bit of toothache recently, maybe I’ll book in at your place.” All you can do after that is politely excuse yourself to stop yourself thinking about all that sugar in the alcopop they’re drinking.
Dental nursing isn’t just a job – it’s a career and a way of life. You’re a medical professional and you need to stay on top of your game to keep your skills up to scratch. The main reason I have to smile is knowing that I’m helping other people to maintain their smile. Every single day is different from the last, but every day ends with a sense of fulfilment that I’ve done a good job. I couldn’t be happier with my career.