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Working in UK dentistry from overseas

Written by: Ulrike Matthesius
Published on: 1 Sep 2017

Working in the UK

If you are thinking of coming to work as a dentist in the UK from overseas you must consider the issues of professional registration, immigration requirements, any additional training that is needed and the professional standards and regulation of dentistry in the UK. These can be very complicated matters that you will need to research carefully but here is an overview of what is involved (though please note this is not legal advice, and it is not exhaustive, just general information).

Professional registration

All dentists wishing to practise in the UK must first be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC – ). The GDC holds the registers of all dentists and dental care professionals; not being registered would amount to illegal practice and would lead to prosecution.

The route to registration depends on your nationality, and on where you qualified. Nationals of European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries holding qualifications from these countries will generally be accepted for immediate registration. However, it is currently not known how the UK’s expected exit from the European Union will affect this arrangement. EU/EEA nationals with non-EU/EEA diplomas usually need to be assessed, and overseas nationals with overseas diplomas will generally have to sit the GDC’s Overseas Registration Exam (ORE). All applicants must demonstrate to the GDC that they have appropriate proficiency in the English language. This can either be done by undertaking a language test, by having an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification undertaken in English, or by having worked in a country where English is an official language. The GDC has published guidance on its website.

Note that GDC registration conveys the right to work from a professional point; however, it does not constitute a work permit from an immigration point of view, and there are also additional requirements for working in the NHS.


European nationals currently have the right of free movement to any other EU/EEA country and do not need a work permit. How this right will be affected by the UK’s expected exit from the EU is not currently known. The nationals of most other countries will need a work visa. This will, most often, be a Tier 2 visa requiring an employer to sponsor the applicant. Visas for spouses might also be available for those who are accompanying their partner who has taken up another job in the UK. Other visas might also be available - information on visa considerations is available from the Home Office or from British embassies in your country of origin.

Having a visa does not convey a right to work professionally – GDC registration (as described above) must also be held.

Additional training requirements

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) places additional training requirements on all dentists wishing to work in general dental practice. These requirements, and the regulations underpinning them, differ in the four countries of the UK. In England and Wales, dentists need to be on a dental performers list. For entry to this list, certain competences need to be demonstrated to the NHS. This is done through a period of supervised, in-practice training, determined by NHS England or the local Health Boards in Wales, and regional Health Education England offices/deaneries. UK dentists do this training straight after university; non-UK dentists will need to do it when they decide to work in the UK. Finding a practice willing to train an overseas dentist can sometimes be a challenge, particularly in areas where there is competition for dentistry jobs.

In Northern Ireland and Scotland, dentists can work as employed assistants until they have achieved the necessary competencies and can apply for ‘equivalence’.

In all four countries, there is an assessment and sign-off process with involvement from the HEE offices/deaneries. The additional training can take up to a year.

If you work on a fully private basis and do not treat NHS patients at all, you do not need to do this training or be included on an NHS list. The selection of jobs on offer is significantly limited, however.

Professional standards and regulation

Dentistry and those working in the profession are highly regulated. The GDC provides a set of standards - Standards for the Dental Team - to which it expects those it regulates to work. It is essential that you familiarise yourself with this before you start working. You will also need indemnity cover – when you register with the GDC you will make a legal declaration that you have this in place.

You will also have to conform to mandatory continuing professional development (CPD) requirements. These are outlined on the GDC website, but please note are likely to change from 2017.

The Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK) provides a number of publications on clinical standards and a framework of postgraduate qualifications for dentists and dental care professionals.

If you hold a specialist qualification in your country of origin, you can enquire about having this qualification recognised here. Two specialties are accepted on the basis of European law: Oral surgery and orthodontics. If you are an EU national with an EU qualification in either of these, it will transfer, although it is not clear how the UK’s potential exit from the EU will affect this. All other specialist qualifications will need to go through an assessment process, and only if the specialty exists in the UK. The GDC holds these lists. You can only use the title ‘specialist’ in the UK if you are included in a specialist list. 

In addition to individual registration with the GDC, dental practices also must be registered with the relative business regulator in the country in which they are based. In England, this is the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It sets standards for quality of care and inspects health care providers. Health Inspectorate Wales (HIW), Regulation of Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) in Northern Ireland and Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) undertake similar work, though with slightly differing approaches in each country.

There is a lot to think about. Finding a job is only one step; settling into a new country, understanding the culture and complying with all the regulatory requirements is important. The BDA can advise and provide support in many of these areas; professional requirements, educational resources, journals, local branches where you can meet colleagues, the largest dental library in the world, seminars, courses and conferences, individual advice and legal support once registered and a member, preferential rates for some financial services – make sure you get membership of the UK’s biggest professional dental association.

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