English language controls

Necessary knowledge of English language for dental professionals

The General Dental Council (GDC) is committed to ensuring that only dental professionals who demonstrate the necessary knowledge of the English language are able to treat patients in the UK.

In collaboration with other healthcare regulators we have been working with the Department of Health to amend the legislation that governs what we do - the Dentists Act 1984 – and to introduce new powers to assess English language proficiency. 

Who does this apply to?

These new powers, which come into force on 1 April 2016, will allow the GDC to assess the English language proficiency of any dentist or dental care professional (DCP) before they can practise in the UK. 

Dentists and dental care professionals who apply to return to the GDC register will, from the 1 April 2016, also have their proficiency in English language considered.

These new powers reflect the requirement in our Standards for dental professionals to: 
“be sufficiently fluent in written and spoken English to communicate effectively with patients, their relatives, the dental team and other healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom.”

Applicants from the European Economic Area (EEA)

We are required to recognise the dental qualifications and training from applicants from EEA countries, in line with other professional healthcare regulators.
From 1 April 2016 our new powers require applicants from EEA countries to provide appropriate evidence that they have the necessary knowledge of English before they can be registered. 

If we are satisfied about an applicant’s knowledge of English from their initial application for registration, we will not request further evidence. 

Dental professionals qualifying in a country where English is the first and native language​ will not routinely need to provide additional evidence about their knowledge of English.

If the evidence provided does not meet our requirements applicants will be required to undertake a language proficiency test. 

Full details of our requirements are set out in our guidance. 

Applicants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA)

Dental professionals who qualified outside the EEA, before they can practise in the UK, must already demonstrate they have the necessary knowledge of English as part of our assessment of their qualifications, knowledge and skills.

The process for demonstrating English language proficiency varies according to the circumstances of applicants. 

If we are satisfied about an applicant’s knowledge of English from their initial application we will not request further evidence. From 1 April 2016 dental professionals qualifying in a country where English is the first and native language will not routinely need to provide additional evidence about their knowledge of English.

If the evidence provided does not meet our requirements applicants will be required to undertake an English language proficiency test. 

Full details of our requirements are set out in our guidance.

Types of evidence we are likely to accept

Examples of the types of evidence we will routinely accept to demonstrate applicants have the necessary knowledge of English, are:
A recent primary dental qualification that has been taught and examined entirely in English
A recent pass in a language test for registration with a regulatory authority in a country where the first and native language is English
Recent and continuous experience of practising in a country where the first and native language is English
A pass in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam that meets the requirements set out in our guidance 

Changes in English Language Testing System (IELTs) levels

Currently, dental nurses and dental technicians applying for registration and who qualified in a country where English is not the first and native language, require an IELTS level of 6.

From the 1 April 2016 the IELTS pass levels for dental nurses and dental technicians will change from Level 6 to Level 7. The IELTS’s pass levels for dentists and other dental care professionals (DCPs) are unchanged and remain at level 7.

The decision to bring dental nurses and dental technicians in line with the rest of the dental team follows feedback to our recent consultation on the new English language control requirements.

Following the consultation and the views expressed about the IELTs levels, we gathered further information to establish whether to maintain the current IELTs pass levels for dental nurses and dental technicians or whether to raise them to the levels required for dentists and other members of the dental team. 

We considered the responses from the professional bodies, namely the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN), the British Dental Dental Association (BDA) and the British Orthodontic Society (BOS).  The BDA commented on the differences in IELTs levels we require and highlighted the important role dental nurses play in recording work undertaken in surgery, and their oral health education role,  the BOS considered that all registrants with ‘direct access to patients’ should be required to attain the same levels of language competence as other registrant groups and the BADN called for the same levels across the dental team.  

From the evidence and information gathered we found no compelling patient safety case either for or against requiring different IELTs levels for dental nurses and dental technicians than we set for other registrant groups.

On this basis and recognising the complex technical elements of much of the work involved, our Council has decided to act on the advice of the professional bodies and align the levels by making a modest increase in the requirements for dental nurses and technicians. 

It is anticipated that over the next decade all dental care professionals will provide a greater proportion of dental care than is currently the case and this coupled with the desire of NHS policy makers to make better use of the dental workforce and thereby increase access to dental care, supports an argument for aligning the levels across the dental team.

Other evidence

If applicants cannot provide the types of evidence described above we will consider other readily verifiable evidence proficiency in English which meets the criteria set out in our guidance.