What encourages dental nurses to remain within the dental sector?

04 January, 2024 by Debbie Reed

Dental nurses are the largest professional title registered by the GDC, accounting for around 50% of all dental professionals. There are currently over 61,000 dental nurses on the register. However, the perceived drop in the numbers of dental nurses in recent years has been termed a ‘recruitment crisis’ and there are many stakeholders who want to understand the drivers for people considering leaving the profession.

The Dental Nurse Retention Survey aims to provide insight by establishing a body of knowledge about the current state of the registered Dental Nurse workforce within the UK. Over 3,100 dental nurses responded.

The main conclusions of the report are fascinating and provide valuable insights into the reasons dental nurses want to remain in the profession, as well as some of the factors that may lead them to consider leaving.

There were three top factors that encouraged 50% of dental nurse respondents to remain registered with the GDC and working within the dental sector. These were, in order:

  • Meaning and growth, focusing on reasons associated with job satisfaction, including meaningful work, career structure and opportunities for professional progression and growth.
  • Extrinsic rewards, including contracts of employment, financial remuneration and pay, as well as additional rewards and incentives provided by employers.
  • Workplace, culture and environment, which was defined as a set of values, beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions common to those working together, which influences behaviours and interactions amongst colleagues within the dental team. Workplace environment also means the setting and physical conditions, such as the building structure, equipment, and material, in addition to the culture.

Meanwhile, the main reasons that 34% of dental nurse respondents had become ‘uncertain about remaining in dental nursing’ were, in order:

  • Dissatisfaction with pay.
  • Employers not valuing, recognising, or showing appreciation for the dental nurses’ contribution or no longer enjoying working as dental nurse.
  • Dental nurses not getting a sense of meaning and reward from their role or feeling that they were unable to progress in their career.

Of the respondents who declared ‘an intension to leave dental nursing’ (16%), while pay was a feature, surprisingly, when requested to be specific, pay was not among the top three reasons. The main reasons people intended to leave were, in order:

  • Employers not valuing, recognising or showing appreciation for their contribution.
  • Feeling they were unable to progress in their careers.
  • No longer enjoying working as a dental nurse.

The study revealed that even within the group who were ‘intending to leave’, that 46% could be tempted to remain or return to dental nursing, with the appropriate adjustments, rewards and incentives from employers.

So, there are things that employers can do to keep these professionals and the report offers ideas to use as a starting point for discussions and negotiations. It offers possibilities which may be worth exploring, to keep or re-engage that group, many of whom would, despite everything, consider re-registering and working in the dental sector in the future.

Inevitably, there are limitations with what a study such as this can achieve and these are outlined in the report. I would encourage others to use the data and insights as a gateway to researching other groups, such as student dental nurses.

The report also invites others to explore other perspectives which shape the dental nurse community, which remain under-explored. This is a largely untapped, valuable source of knowledge waiting to be discovered.

The Dental Nurse Retention Survey UK was conducted between February 2023 and March 2023. When this study was designed, there were 114,595 dental professionals registered by the UK dental regulator, the GDC.

The results of the survey were published on ResearchGate in November 2023: Reed, D.P. (2023) The Dental Nurse UK Retention Survey 2023: An internet mediated survey of members of the British Association of Dental Nurses and wider dental nurse workforce regarding what encourages them to remain within the dental sector.

It is a compelling read for those seeking to retain and encourage registered dental nurses to continue to contribute as part of the UK dental workforce. Unsurprisingly, so far, the report has had 1,300 readers.

Over the course of the next year, look out for the associated papers, journal articles and speaker events which will provide further detailed analysis of the results. 


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