Director of Operations for the Foundation, Sharon Broom, emphasises that working for the Helpline is an opportunity for dental nurses to continue to use their dental skills but in a non-clinical environment.
Sharon said: “It is a good career progression for those who want a new challenge, but want to continue to use their dental knowledge. The Helpline team are communicators and educators of good oral health-care; essentially, they are still helping patients on a day to day basis.”
Louise Chidlow joined the Foundation in 2005 as a Helpline Advisor, having worked as a dental nurse for almost 10 years both in NHS and private practices. It had always been an ambition of Louise’s to work in a profession that involved both working with the public and required medical knowledge.
Louise said: “I wasn’t actually looking for a job when I joined the Foundation. I saw the advert and decided to apply, as it looked interesting. In the end, I decided it was a great opportunity to work for a recognised organisation and to help a wider audience than just the patients coming into the practice I worked in. Plus, it was a chance to learn new skills and do something a bit different.”
Karen Coates, another member of the Helpline team, has also pursued new challenges since joining the Foundation. After working at various dental practices in Warwickshire, Karen took a position as Territory Manager for Sensodyne and CTS Dental Supplies. After joining the Foundation in November 2005, Karen has trained as a spokesperson for the Foundation and gives regular interviews to the media.
In 2006, Yvonne Lee joined the Foundation after 24 and a half years in dentistry, working as a dental nurse, head receptionist and a practice manager. Looking for new challenges but not wanting to leave the industry, the Helpline position was ideal.
Yvonne points out that the time spent working in dental practices have helped the team to communicate effectively with the public.
She said: “We get callers from all walks of life, and we never know what we’ll be asked next; but it is satisfying being able to offer informed advice and reassure the public. The Helpline offers the opportunity for us to do just that.”
Another advantage of working for the Helpline is that the team often get an opportunity to attend tradeshows. Karen highlights that this is something none of them had the chance to do before as dental nurses, and that it is a great way to speak to dentists and hygienists.
“The profession isn’t always sure what we do at the Foundation. It’s great to speak to them and show how we can help them. Dentists often don’t have time to go through a procedure in detail with their patient, but at the Helpline we can discuss any oral health topic for as long as the caller requires. We are there immediately for the public, but it is also a service which can work in conjunction with dental practices – somewhere they can send their patients to for more information or independent advice.”
Another key development in the Foundation’s work was the introduction of two annual campaigns, National Smile Month and Mouth Cancer Action Month. National Smile Month runs from mid-May to mid-June, and promotes good oral health to the public. Mouth Cancer Action Month is held annually in November and encourages the health profession to educate and inform the public of the risk of the disease and the early warning signs to look out. The campaign uses the tagline ‘If in doubt, get checked out’. Dental nurses are in a prime position to promote both of these campaigns. As the essential link between a dentist and a patient, dental nurses often have more time to communicate such messages to a patient, or organise an event at a practice to raise awareness.
A hot issue in the Helpline currently, is Continuing Professional Development (CPD). CPD was introduced in August 2008, and requires dental nurses to complete 150 hours of dental development in five years. 50 hours of this has to be verified, covering core subjects such as Disinfection and Decontamination, Medical Emergencies and Radiography and Radiation Protection, and has to be certified by a third party and meet all of the General Dental Council’s educational criteria.
Louise highlights that the CPD helps keep the Helpline team up to date. She said: “It gives the team more confidence when answering calls from both the public and the profession.
“This is also a positive step for dental nurses. The extra training will help them with any extra responsibilities they are given, such as taking x-rays or running oral health classes in their practice. It is also brilliant for patients, as it gives them extra confidence in those treating them.”
There is a concern that non-surgery based nurses, though those are few and far between, will struggle to cover their certified hours and core subjects. Luckily, the Foundation encourages the Helpline team to participate in courses and seminars as part of their verifiable hours, to ensure there are the best advisors possible when answering calls.
Another problem area for nurses is where they can go to get their certified hours, and how to balance the demand of surgery hours and the need to attend courses to develop their skills. The Helpline suggest regularly checking dental journals and the trade unions such as British Association of Dental Nurses and the British Dental Association to cover help cover the core subjects.
The job does have its lighter moments, with a fair share of unusual enquiries from the public. Karen said: “I have been asked: ?Is it ethical to ask my dentist out on a date?’ and ?Can I snog with my denture in?’
There are even a few that have left the team speechless: “Can you solve the clue in today’s Daily Express crossword, 8 down 11 letters, dental term for the study of the mouth!”
As Louise said: “Whether you work on a Helpline or not, Dental Nurses be prepared!”
The Helpline is available between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday on 0845 063 1188. You can now talk to them via email by visiting the dental health website or via Twitter by following @Dental_Advice or via Facebook by liking the page Dental Helpline.