This article talks about the requirements needed to become a Dentist in South Africa. Becoming a dentist is an incredibly rewarding career in South Africa, one which pays very well and offers a huge amount of career progression and personal job satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is also particularly challenging to break into as a profession, resulting in skills shortages in South Africa.
Becoming a dentist requires a large amount of education and preparation, as studying to work this field can take many, many years. This article will explore dentistry as a career, if the profession is right for you, and finally, how to get your foot in the door and head off on the right track to becoming a qualified dentist.
What is dentistry all about?
Dentistry is a sector of the healthcare industry concerned with oral hygiene and health, in particular the diagnosis, prevention of and correction of diseases of the teeth and in some cases, the overall mouth. There are generally considered to be five main areas of dentistry: diagnostic work, preventative work, corrective treatment, surgical procedures, and administration. There is also a branch of dentistry which focuses on cosmetic procedures such as teeth whitening or straightening. Consequently, dentistry is not only an essential part of South Africa’s healthcare system, but also a highly respected profession and a credible, rewarding career.
Dentists are in short supply in South Africa. It is estimated there are just over 4,100 qualified dentists practicing in the country, which equates a ratio of 0.085 per 1,000 population. Therefore, graduates are encouraged to consider a career in dentistry, and would be offered a secure and long-lasting career.
Is dentistry a career for me?
Being a dentist requires you draw on a wide variety of skills. It is a job which commands long hours and high levels of concentration. You will often be required to deal with stressful situations, especially regarding back-to-back appointments, caseloads, difficult or demanding patients, or ones who fear the dentist’s chair!
A high level of dentistry knowledge and education is of course a basic prerequisite of becoming a dentist. You must be qualified and ideally have a passion for dentistry and looking after patients and their health. Paired with this, you must be able to think logically, have sound judgement and be aware of different oral diseases and how to diagnose them.
You will need exceptional concentration skills, as well as a high level of dexterity which would enable you to perform the hands-on part of your job effectively. Spatial awareness and good eyesight are also important.
You should have a patient and reassuring demeanour, as being able to inspire trust from your patients is essential to success. Aptitude for numbers and financials is important, as billing will always be an integral part of a dentist’s work. Should you wish to set up your own practice one day, then you would need to understand all areas of starting a business.
How can you prepare for a career in dentistry?
What are Dentistry course requirements?
Despite it being an in-demand career, dentistry is challenging to get into and will require a lot of preparation and studying from an early age.
1. High School subjects.
To prepare for a career in dentistry, you would need to have studied Grade 11 and Grade 12: Mathematics, English, Biology/Life Sciences, and Physical Science, attaining at least a Level 5 in your matriculation year. Many universities will also require completion of National Benchmark Testing (NBT).
2. Undergraduate qualifications.
After high school, there are several undergraduate qualifications to aim towards, the most prolific of which is the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB ChB) degree. There are also Bachelor of Dental Sciences (BDS), Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BChD) and Bachelor of Oral Health degrees. Most courses follow the British model of medical teaching; as such, they are five years long and offer extensive practical experience. A list of universities offering dental-related degrees can be found here.
Top 5 Places to Study Dentistry Qualifications in South Africa
Getting started as a Dentist in South Africa.
After completing a relevant qualification, your university will assist you in getting set up with a two-year internship and a year of community service. These are required in order for you to become an accredited doctor.
Once you have completed this experience, you must register with the Health Professional Council of South Africa (HPCSA) in order to find work. Further qualifications may be obtained through this registration process, and those with overseas qualifications will be assessed to ensure they are aligned to HPCSA requirements. Registration means that you are accredited and meet the standard required to practice.
Further qualifications can be obtained by completing post-graduate qualifications in specialised dentistry. Another good step is to become a member of the South African Dental Association (SADA) who offer different membership levels, depending on your experience. SADA also offers top-up training and continuing professional development (CPD) options.
Looking for a job.
As you are completing your studies, it is worth researching jobs and vacancies as this will always be an exceptionally long and challenging part of your route to becoming a dentist. SADA offers comprehensive job opportunities, and your university will also advise you on how to get started in the profession. One other route could be through volunteering or completing further community service for a year or so, picking up valuable experience in the field, offering dental services to vulnerable people or poorer neighbourhoods.
After some time in entry-level roles, you will begin to gain valuable experience which will allow you to pad out your CV to facilitate a move into roles with a broader scope of responsibility, such as in private practices or locums. Eventually, you might want to set up your own dental practice.
Dentist salary in South Africa
Find out how much a dentist earns in South Africa from the video below:
Although the route to becoming a dentist is complex and long, with some organisation and effort it is easy to make sure you start off on the right foot. Some individuals can make a career change into dentistry by having existing qualifications accredited by the HPCSA, so if you have already qualified in another subject or have a healthcare-related degree in a different field or country, then it may not be too late to make the career change. South Africa is trying everything to attract people to the dental profession, so aligning your education and skills will give you a head start in entering this fantastic career.