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Is starting at a dental group a good idea for newly qualified dentists?

Written by: Adrian O'Dowd
Published on: 9 Jun 2023

New dentists starting at a dental group

The current dental market is far from steady in terms of employment and patient access, so for newly qualified dentists weighing up their options, working with dental corporates is a direction some are considering carefully.

The advantages of joining one of the dental groups, according to the industry, include access to expertise, clinical support, career progression, pathways to special interest areas, competitive benefits and HR support, flexible working patterns as well as being able to relocate within the business to other practices.


Current constraints

Newly qualified dentists are entering the profession in challenging times.

According to a BBC News investigation published in August 2022 that involved contacting almost 7,000 NHS dental practices across the UK, nine out of 10 practices were not accepting new adult patients for treatment.

MPs recently launched an inquiry into NHS dentistry and during the first oral evidence session of the parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee held in March, Sandra White, Clinical Director of the Association of Dental Groups (ADG), appeared as a witness to give her views on the current pressures.

‘Our dentists have been waiting 10 years for real reform,’ she said during the session. ‘They want it. They are losing hope. Unless we give them some hope for the future, they will not want to continue to provide NHS care.

‘Those who are left in the NHS are trying to pick up the pieces because a lot of their colleagues are leaving. We have a demotivated, unhappy workforce, and that is not good for anybody. It is not good for patients.’

Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the BDA’s General Practice Committee, also giving evidence, said: ‘The recent changes do not come close to a reformed contract. They are minor tweaks. They will not stop the exodus of dentists and their teams from the NHS.

‘The fundamental barrier has been funding. There is only enough NHS dentistry commissioned in this country for 50% of the population. Can you imagine if that was general medical practice? There would be rioting.

‘There was unmet need before Covid of about 4 million patients. There is currently unmet need of about 11 million. We have a system that does not work.’

Shortages of dentists have also hit the dental groups and in March of this year, Bupa Dental Care announced that it was closing, selling or merging 85 dental practices in the UK, due to the national shortage of dentists and increased costs caused by inflation. Nevertheless, Bupa said it remained fully committed to the UK dental market and provision of NHS services.


Job security?

In such a market, should newly qualified dentists consider working with dental groups? Colosseum Dental Chief Executive Officer Claude Streit argues yes and, indeed, he is seeking to boost his workforce over the next few years.

The company has around 200 clinicians and 40 dental hygienists working with them at around 80 practices, but he says: ‘We are keen to recruit more dentists although we are almost fully allocated. We made huge progress last year. Nevertheless, we have some very attractive roles and vacancies in our practices. We are looking to recruit around about 30 to 35 colleagues over the next year.’

Claude believes the market has changed in recent times meaning that the share of the market of practices run by corporates and larger dental groups is about 18% and he adds: ‘That seems to be accelerating. If you look at our sister companies in the Nordics, they see much higher shares of corporate dentistry and I think there is no reason why this shouldn't be the case in UK over the next five to 10 years.’


Attractive job packages

A large part of the argument for new dentists to consider joining a dental group is down to what they can offer, he says.

‘We probably offer the most compelling package especially for young clinicians in the UK. We are part of the biggest dental group in the world which offers all sorts of things – preferred access to talents, to suppliers, to universities. We have an internal Academy in the UK.

‘We have invested loads of money in these career development opportunities. In the past, we were a little bit like a bus stop and now we have become a destination.

‘You can start wherever you want and we can offer – especially young clinicians – a long term career development opportunity. This includes all adjacent areas – if you want to go more into research, we can accommodate you, or if want to do specialisms, we have all the training, coaching and mentoring in place.

‘On top of that, despite being a big group, we have what I call relative smallness. It is relative because we have proper processes and procedures in place which works very well but at the same time, we are also small enough to know each other.’


Trend towards dental groups

Newly qualified dentists appear to be increasingly drawn towards dental group employment in recent years, according to Claude, who says: ‘We see a massive influx of newly qualified younger dentists and it's fair to say that this is also a trend in the UK as far as I know. It’s happened because as corporates, we can properly provide the best learning and development opportunities, much better than independents.

‘It makes sense because in a smaller entity, you are limited to the talents the skill set and whatever the capabilities are of one or two people. In our world, you tap into this huge potential of the group.’


Independent versus corporate

Dentists looking for roles are likely to compare the pros and cons of independent practices with the dental groups, and the latter are perhaps more likely to offer better career development opportunities.

Claude explains: ‘We can accompany colleagues almost for their whole professional lifetime even if they want to move within the UK or internationally. We look systematically into exchange of knowhow, knowledge, sharing of best practices in different markets. In all sorts of areas and countries whatever you fancy, we can offer.’

Despite the recent news of closures by Bupa Dental Care, the company says it is still mindful of looking after its people and at the time of the announcement, its General Manager Mark Allan gave reassurances that the company would seek to help its dentists affected by the changes, saying: ‘Bupa will also fully support its people through this change, redeploying affected colleagues where possible to continue their careers with Bupa.’


Welcoming environment

Jessica Bateman, aged 25, started working at one of Colosseum Dental’s practices in September of last year doing mostly NHS dentistry and is convinced she made the right choice.

‘I qualified in July 2021 and I did my FD [foundation dentist] time in Chippenham but now I have moved to Bristol,’ she says. “I was looking for jobs in Bristol or Brighton because I wanted to move to a bigger city. I did quite a lot of interviews but Colosseum was the one where I felt the most welcome. They didn’t have ridiculous expectations of me.

‘I went to one job interview elsewhere where they wanted me to do 7,000 UDAs in my first year and £40,000 of private work and I thought that was ridiculous.

‘Before the job interview, Colosseum gave me video tours and they did open mornings at the head office which was really nice because it meant you got to meet people in head office and it made it such a welcoming environment.’

Jessica admits she had some reservations initially about taking a job with one of the big groups, saying: ‘Colosseum were very different to all the other corporates I had spoken to. They cared more about you as a person and what you wanted to achieve than the other places I was talking to. The others just wanted to know what targets I was going to hit and how many patients I would see a day whereas Colosseum took time to get to know me.

‘Everyone in head office seems to know my name even though I’ve not met 90% of them which is good and it has a more independent practice feel even though you are in a group. It doesn’t feel as much like a corporate.’

One of the good things about working with the company, she adds, is that they offer lots of training courses, have clinical drop-in sessions on an almost daily basis, and put on webinars.

‘I had a bit of a blip a couple of weeks ago where I was not enjoying the job and the amount of people who contacted me to help was great,’ she explains. ‘They are really focused on making sure you are happy and they have done so many changes to help in a week – things like changing my schedule and how many emergency appointments I have to give me a bit more space. They have been great. They work on making you happy.

‘I would 100% recommend working with this dental group to any other dentist. It’s great that you have so much more access to different peoples’ knowledge and I get a lot more opportunities here than I would have done if I had stayed at my foundation corporate, which was a small corporate. I was a bit hesitant about corporates but I am very happy I did it.’


Private work

Dental groups can also provide opportunities for newly qualified dentists who want to do private dentistry.

Luca Nigrelli, aged 24 and who qualified in 2021, started with Bupa Dental Care in September last year at the company’s London Bank practice following his first job doing vocational training in Camberley, Surrey.

‘I knew I wanted to get out of the NHS. I was quite disillusioned with it,’ he says. ‘I was exploring options in private work and realised that a lot of independent private practices were requiring quite a lot of experience and a large portfolio which I had not had much of a chance to make, so I started looking into other roles.

‘I was recommended to look at Bupa and heard there was availability in London, which was a dream. I went for interview and got on well with everyone and the rest is history.’

Asked why he chose to work in private dentistry, he says: ‘Essentially, I didn't like the way that I was being told how to treat patients and to make it a financially viable career and the corners that were being cut I wasn’t comfortable with. Thankfully during my VT [vocational training], I didn’t have to do that but I could see what other services were doing and I didn’t like the look of it.’

Once Luca met the practice manager at the Bupa practice during his job interview, he says he knew it was the right place for him.

‘The best things about working with Bupa is there's no real pressure on me to hit targets which I know a lot of colleagues working in the NHS are snowed under with. The company has also been very welcoming and made me feel comfortable when I started.

‘There’s no strict timeframes on how long I've got for each procedure. I am in control of that and in control of my own book which is nice.

‘They were also very aware at the start that I had not worked in private practice before. I was nervous about it but they were really supportive and put me with the lead nurses for the first few months to help me get to grips with everything.’

The biggest difference between what he is doing now and during his vocational training is time for patients, as he explains: ‘It all comes down to the time you have available to provide treatment to patients.

‘On the NHS when I was working, you get paid the same amount for a filling no matter what that filling was whereas, this year I can allocate enough time depending on the patient and their needs or the tooth’s needs and you charge appropriately. You can go home feeling comfortable that you provided a standard of care that is to the best of your ability.’

The dental market is challenging for some people, he admits, but adds: ‘It is an exciting time to be a young dentist and there are so many developments happening at the moment that mean we can provide care that might not have been possible before.

‘However, I can also appreciate that others are not so fortunate and maybe aren’t so happy with the current state of NHS dentistry.’

He would recommend the route he has followed, saying: ‘I hear from colleagues elsewhere that they are seeing up to 30 plus patients a day whereas I would tend to see between six and 10. I go to work loving what I do and I really enjoy going to work every day.’