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How well do dental groups look after dentists?

Written by: Adrian O’Dowd
Published on: 12 Apr 2024

How well do dental groups look after dentists

Given the current shortage of dentists willing to do NHS work in the UK despite huge demand, businesses know how important it is to look after the people who choose to work with them.

Dentistry knows this all too well and dental groups are making it as attractive as possible for dentists who are considering working with them – on a self-employed or salaried basis – and choosing to develop their career.

The potential benefits put forward include easy access to expertise, clinical support, career progression, routes to special interest areas, competitive benefits, flexible working, and the ability to relocate within the business to other practices.

Current market

Although there are a record number of dentists registered to practise with the General Dental Council (GDC), the number of dentists undertaking NHS activity in England has fallen to levels last seen in 2016-17.

The BDA says that more than 12 million people were unable to access NHS dental care in 2023 (around a quarter of adults in England) and the vast majority (90%) of dental practices were no longer accepting new NHS adult patients.

Recent GDC figures show there were 44,209 dentists on the Register as of January this year, which is a 2.5% increase compared to last year with 1,079 more dentists on the register, but it has been unclear how many are working full-time or how their work balances between NHS and private dentistry.

To shine a spotlight on this, the GDC carried out a work patterns survey earlier this year, which gathered responses from 25,159 (57%) dentists of which 24,152 (55%) were working in the UK dental sector.

This showed that only 15% were fully NHS, with no private care, and a further 27% said they were predominantly NHS (over 75% of their time).

Almost a fifth (19%) said they provided only private care, with no NHS, and a further 14% said they predominantly provided private care (over 75% of their time), meaning around a third of dentists are mostly doing private work. As many as 42% said they were working 30 hours a week or less.
In a recent appearance (March 19) at the parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee inquiry into NHS dentistry, the BDA’s Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the General Dental Practice Committee, spoke of the disappointment of the profession at the government’s recent dental recovery plan published in February.
“Having sat in negotiations for many months, my expectations of the recovery plan were pretty low. We waited nearly a year for the document. My worry then was that, with every day that passed, more colleagues would pare down their NHS commitment or walk away entirely. Now that it has landed, I am afraid there is really nothing there to bring the service back from the brink and deliver the promise,” he told MPs.

Looking after practitioners

In such a climate, dental groups are clear on the importance of looking after their people well and say they are offering a wide range of training, competitive pay, job flexibility and wellbeing support to keep them happy.

Nyree Whitley, Chief Clinical Officer for {my}dentist, which has more than 530 dental practices across the UK, says: “Ensuring clinicians (both employed and self-employed) have well managed patient diaries, practice support teams, the materials, and the equipment they need for their day to run as smoothly as possible is critical.

“We provide as much support as we can to clinicians, providing them with access to the training and support they need to develop the dentistry career that is right for them.”

Cathie Brady, chief clinical officer for Rodericks Dental, says: “I think it's important for us to look after all of our people well and that specific group [of dentists] because there's a lack of dentists at the moment, but our fundamental culture is that we want to create a supportive environment of continuous development where they can be autonomous and empowered to deliver the best dental care that they can.”

Lee Catlin from Colosseum Dental agrees that making a company as appealing as possible is crucial and says: “We are a people-centric business. It’s our belief, that we can’t expect the business to grow and thrive, without investing in the growth, development, and happiness of our people. So we invest in all career paths – nurses, receptionists, cleaners, practice managers and, of course, clinicians.

“We want them to feel that their aspirations are within reach and that we’ll do all we can to help them get there.

“We don't want our clinicians to feel they are being dragged into a role or a practice that they don’t want to work in. We want people coming to work feeling happy, engaged, and motivated. As a result of this, our patients experience outstanding care, our practices and clinicians have brilliant reputations, we are observing growth across all key performance indicators and staff churn is at an all-time low.”


Offering job flexibility is central to most of the dental groups’ way of working as Libby Jones, Chief People Officer for {my}dentist, explains: “Across our network of practices, we have the opportunity to support clinicians in agreeing working hours that suit them, and they can make requests for changes to their working pattern at any time, helping the natural ebb and flow of needing to balance work and life.”

Colosseum’s Lee says: “I see our dentists and our practice teams wanting flexibility for lots of different reasons. We are very supportive of things like childcare and returning from maternity leave and we make sure people get phased returns. Even when a clinician has been off for three or four months through illness, we try to make sure we look after them and they return to us.

“There’s other degrees of flexibility such as doing treatment when you want to do it. It might be that a clinician wants to do an 8 till 8 day on a Monday because they prefer to condense their hours, or they prefer to do private treatment in the evening – we can provide that flexibility and have a very agile workforce that allows clinicians to manage their time and patient base better.”

Rodericks has a similar approach, as Cathy explains: “Flexible working is in terms of hours, days but also in terms of maybe wanting to work in one or more practice so that they have a different environment, and we positively encourage that.”


The flexibility on offer extends to the wellbeing of dentists and other team members who are seeking to return to work after time off for ill health, be that physical or mental.

Cathy says: “We are very open and have a well-being helpline and mental health practitioners. We hold coffee mornings for people who are on maternity leave to make sure that they feel supported to return to work. We’ve also got one of our clinical advisors and their main role is to support the well-being of our dentists in terms of health and regulatory complaints.”

That wellbeing is important too for {my}dentist and Libby says: “We offer a voluntary benefits platform where our colleagues across the UK can access benefits such as gym membership discounts and online yoga. In recent years, we’ve also extended our training to include key guidance on time and stress management.”

Lee adds: “We’ve had situations where people have been off for many months. Other businesses might say they have to resign and re-apply when they are ready to come back, but that’s not what we do.

“We hold the role and put a locum in place and keep in touch with them and offer whatever support they require. We have mental health first-aiders in our practices and across the whole business.”


Although most associate dentists remain self-employed, some of those choose to work with the dental groups and career development is a common desire for many. Dental groups say they are keen to provide their people with plenty of educational and training opportunities which can help them develop specialisms.

The Colosseum Dental UK Academy as well as a similar academy based in Oslo, Norway, provide continuing education programmes for the whole clinical team. For dentists, they can embark on Focus Training and the Master Curriculum Programme, and the courses offered are a mixture of online and hands-on learning.

Lee explains: “Both these academies are market leading in terms of what we offer our clinicians to continue their professional development while working for us. We are very different to most dental groups in the UK. We are the largest provider of dentistry in Europe. We’ve got over 600 practices across Europe, so we are a big organisation, but in the UK, we’ve only got 79 practices which allows us to have a relative smallness.

“You get the feel of both – a feel of working with a large organisation, but also on the ground you get this family feel and a sort of closeness to the people that you need to speak to such as the clinical director or head of operations. They are only a text message, email, or a phone call away.”

Developing dentists’ skills is also central to how {my}dentist operates as Nyree explains: “We continue to invest in the clinical support team with even more Clinical Development Advisors, whose role it is to understand the career aspirations of clinicians and signpost the relevant support, training, and clinical pathways that they need to achieve their career goals.

“A clinician starts their relationship with the {my}dentist Academy as soon as they join the business and have finished their clinical induction. The Academy team then continue to provide invaluable access to training and development learning materials, which clinicians can access at any time throughout their time at {my}dentist.”

Rodericks is similarly keen to help its people develop and look at specialising, as Cathy says: “We make sure we have a conversation with them and we do a lot of taster days so if somebody's not quite sure where they want their interest to be, we invite them to do three or four hands-on or surgery days to see if they like it or they can do something else.

“They become accredited if they then decide to go and do a certificate or a diploma. Quite a lot of our clinical team are foundation dental educational supervisors – I am a training programme director – so we have firm foundations in postgraduate education.”


It is not straightforward to offer additional perks to dentists because of their self-employed status, but there are ways of making people feel valued as Lee says: “Our people get their birthday off and if you haven’t taken a sick day in the past year, you get another holiday day – little things like that are important to people. We also have mentors in the business on various areas.”

Cathy adds: “Everyone has support from the clinical team and we make sure that we are open to any discussion or feedback. When people are self-employed, you can’t give them perks so that is a challenge, but we have large clinical conferences, review events, and engagement events. A lot of what we do is encourage team development and team working by doing extracurricular events.”

In a challenging market, the dental groups seem determined to offer attractive and competitive working conditions.