Necessary knowledge of English language for dental professionals
We are 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 worked 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. The powers came into force in April 2016.
Who does this apply to?
These new powers, 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, also have their proficiency in English language considered.
These 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.
We 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 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.
Applicants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA)
Dental professionals who qualified outside the EEA, must demonstrate they have the necessary knowledge of English as part of the 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. Dental professionals qualifying in a country where English is the first 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.
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 language is English
- Recent and continuous experience of practising in a country where the first 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
The IELTs 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 followed feedback received from our consultation on the 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 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 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.
Structured reference to assess knowledge of English
One of the requirements of registration with us is that all dental professionals have the necessary knowledge of English to practice the profession.
To enable us to effectively assess English language skills, a reference can be provided using this form.
The completed form will confirm that at least 75% of the applicant’s day-to-day interaction with patients, carers, their families and other healthcare professionals in the referee's employment or under their supervision has been in English.
Examples must be provided to illustrate how each of the four skills of speaking, listening, writing and reading have been demonstrated or this form will not be accepted.
There are many ways in which an applicant may be able to satisfy us that they have the necessary knowledge of English for registration. If evidence other than those we have listed is provided they must meet the criteria we have set out i.e. the evidence must be robust, recent and readily verifiable by the GDC.