Being in dental school is like learning a new language. There are so many different pieces of equipment, different diseases, types of treatment and NHS terminologies to get your head around. You will not be expected to know the full ins and outs of all dental terminologies for your interview, but a basic understanding of some key vocabulary can help improve your interview answers.

Key thing to remember: aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) are currently procedures that carry a high COVID risk due to particles released into the air from the patient's oral cavity. Dentists are attempting to minimise the number of AGPs they are performing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1.   Dental Equipment

PPE – personal protective equipment: these are essential items used by members of the dental team to ensure safety. These include gloves, masks (respirator masks are new for COVID), aprons and goggles/eye protectants. Patients can also be provided with PPE with bibs and eyewear

Handpiece: the dental drill used for many procedures from decay removal to cosmetic dentistry most drills rotate so quickly they need water to be used with them to cool the surface down. Handpieces come in different speeds and often have removable attachments at the top for different sizes for different treatments

Aspirator: the salivary suction device used in clinical treatments. It is useful to help patients stop choking and increase comfort during procedures as well as keeping airways clear

Autoclave: a sterilisation device for equipment. Heat and pressure are used to kill any potential microorganisms and bacteria on dental equipment so they can be reused between patients

Hand-scaler: a hard metal pick used to remove calculus and plaque from patients’ teeth. They are manual and require no electricity. They are useful in COVID as they do not produce an aerosol and allows for deeper cleaning of the teeth. These are used in a ‘scaling’ procedures (often coupled as a ‘scale and polish’). Ultrasonic scalers can provide a deeper clean but they produce aerosols

2.   Dental Issues and Treatments

There are many different types and classifications of dental decay (caries) – based on location on the tooth surface or how “deep” it’s progressed etc.

In-depth knowledge of dental caries isn’t necessary but knowing how to describe either an image or what you saw in work experience could help embellish your answers.

Rampant caries: advanced or severe decay across multiple teeth

Arrested caries: current inactive lesions in a tooth that was demineralised but has since been remineralized

Bottle caries: decay in the dentition of children often due to the prolonged exposure of sugar in the mouth when children are left during the day or to sleep with a sweet liquid in a bottle like milk, fruit juice or even formula. The sugars are metabolised by bacteria and acid is produced which attacks the teeth

Periodontitis / Periodontal disease: infections of the gum as a result of bacteria accumulating on teeth and gums. The inflammatory stage is called gingivitis where gums bleed with brushing or flossing. There are different stages of periodontal disease and initially, it is always easily treated with minimal damage. More severe periodontitis has more long term effects and is much harder and riskier to treat

Root canal: the removal of the infected or damaged pulp tissue inside the hollow chamber of the tooth. After removal, the canal is cleaned, prepared and filled. This is also known as endodontic treatment and can eliminate bacteria to save the natural tooth and prevent reinfection

Crown and bridge: these are fixed restorations used to help with missing or damaged teeth. A crown covers just one tooth and a bridge is used when more than one teeth are missing

Fillings – amalgam v composite: fillings on a tooth that have had decay removed or are broken, damaged or infected can be made of either amalgam or composite materials. Amalgam fillings are ‘silver’ fillings made from an alloy of silver, zinc, mercury and copper and composite are white fillings made from a polymer resin material. There are positives and negatives of both these materials. Currently, amalgam is used more widely on back teeth (molars) and composite is used on front teeth that are seen in the smile (incisors, canines and premolars)

Dentures: often called false teeth, dentures are a removable lab-made prosthetic with anywhere from 1 tooth to a whole dental arch fixed to them. They are often held in place with attachment to the palate and are made to fit in with the patient’s natural smile

3.   Essential abbreviations

NHS: the National Health Service provides health care for all in the UK. They provide medical care for patients based on their need for it rather than their ability to pay for it. NHS dentistry is not free for everyone and there is currently a band system in place for treatments. Pregnant women, people on benefits and children under 18 receive free NHS dentistry but other people have to pay per treatment

GDC: the General Dental Council are the regulators of the dental profession. Not only do they set the rules and curriculum for dental schools, but they also ensure the protection of both patients and dentists through their fitness to practice. They have 9  principles for the dental team that must be followed! Check them out here

UDA: units of dental activity are how NHS dentists currently measure the amount of work they do regarding dental treatments. Complex dental treatments are worth more UDAs than simple ones. NHS contracts are currently given out with targets of a set amount of UDAs. Many NHS dentists don’t like this contract as there is less incentive on restorative procedures. There are pilot schemes of a different type of contract that could be implemented at any point: more information is here

LA/GA: Local anaesthetic and general anaesthetic are two types of pain relief that can be used by dentists. LA is an injection into the gum  that has a temporary effect of numbness whereas general anaesthetic results in a loss of consciousness and is more frequently used in hospital dentistry for more complex procedures or even in children if necessary

Remember, you’re going to learn everything you need to know in dental schools and interviewers know that they are not talking to professional dentists. Only use terminology that you are comfortable with and if you are asked to describe a treatment or scenario to a patient, remember to not use any jargon! There are so many more words out there, these are just the basic ones to potentially throw in during an interview. If you keep calm, cool and collected, you can answer any question that they throw at you!

Best of luck! Tammy Kwartz