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"Dental Nurse Pay Scales: How Much Can You Expect to Earn?"

Let’s talk about salaries! After all, we all want to make sure we're being compensated fairly for our dedicated work, right? And let's face it, we're not just here to hold suction tubes and pass instruments to the dentist – we're an integral part of the team!

So, how does the dental nurse pay scale work? Your dental nurse salary will be based on an amalgamation of factors including your employer, your location, your experience, and your qualifications. Typically a trainee nurse will start at £14,000 per year, and experienced nurses can expect to earn up to £39,000 per year depending on their responsibilities. 

The short answer is, it varies. But don't worry, we’ll break it down for you. Let's dive in and talk about how much dental nurses can expect to earn. 

The Dental Nurse Pay Scale: Explained


The average salary for a dental nurse in the UK is around £23,000 per year, but we don’t believe averages are all that useful. 

Instead, we want to uncover the factors that influence your dental nurse salary so that you can use them to your advantage when negotiating your next position.

Just like any job role, your salary can vary depending on a multitude of factors. Do you work for the NHS, or in a private practice? Are you based in London or in a small village in Wales? Are you even fully qualified yet?

These are just some of the questions that will influence your pay packet at the end of each month, and they can neatly be sorted into three key considerations:

Your Experience (& Qualifications)

Your Location

Your Employer

For tips on how to boost your income during your career, read on to learn how each of these factors affects your earning potential.

Your Pay, Experience & Qualifications

Trainee dental nurses can expect to earn less than qualified dental nurses, but their pay will increase as they gain experience and become more skilled.

As you gain experience and advance in your career as a dental nurse, you can expect to see an increase in your pay. This is because you will have developed a higher level of expertise and be able to take on more responsibility. The average hourly rate for trainee dental nurses is £6.98, while qualified dental nurses earn an average of £9.98 per hour.

Your training doesn't stop when you have qualified. Obtaining further qualifications or specialisations can increase your earning potential even further. For example, if you have a dental radiography qualification, you will be able to command a higher salary due to your additional skills.

There are various professional development opportunities available to dental nurses, such as advanced training courses or management qualifications. These can be useful for enhancing your skills and demonstrating your commitment to your career, which can also lead to increased pay and more career opportunities.

We’ll cover career pathways later in the blog. However, it is not unusual to rise up the ranks from an apprentice trainee dental nurse to practice manager in a short amount of time.


The starting salary for a trainee nurse starts at around £14,000 per year. In contrast, the average salary for a dental practice manager in the UK is around £30,000 to £40,000 per year.

The ability to increase your earning potential as a dental nurse is highly dependent on your ability to develop your skills and experience, as well as taking on additional duties as your career progresses.

It's also worth noting that some employers may offer pay increases based on performance, such as hitting targets or achieving certain standards. Therefore, it's imperative to take advantage of any opportunities for career progression and skill development, and to continually strive to improve your performance in your role.

In other words, make sure you always give it your all - unless you'd rather take it easy and get paid the same!

Your Pay & Your Location


Location is a crucial factor when it comes to dental nurse pay. Salaries can vary depending on whether you work in a large city or a small town, as well as the cost of living in the area. For example, dental nurses working in London can expect to earn more than those employed in other parts of the country. Some of the highest-paying areas for dental nurses in the UK include London, the South East, and the East of England. However, these areas are also likely to have a higher cost of living.

You might end up in a similar situation to dentists, and be offered a significant pay package to relocate to another area if service levels are critically low. The NHS has identified the north of Northumberland as a "priority area" for workforce recruitment and retention initiatives, aimed at "incentivising dentists to come to work in the area". This includes offering a "financial incentive", as well as support for overseas dentists to meet NHS criteria, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

That said, location isn’t something many of us can or want to change, so relocation might be further down the list of hacks to increase your earnings.

Unless, of course, you're a hermit crab - then you can literally pack up and move whenever you want!

Your Pay & Your Employer


Your employer, and the type of practice you are engaged in can also affect your pay. As a dental nurse, you have three options available: work for the NHS, work directly for a private practice, or work for an agency. Private dental practices tend to pay more than NHS practices, but again, this can vary depending on the practice's location and clientele. Working for an agency may increase your earning potential even further. These agencies specialise in finding temporary and permanent positions for dental nurses, and they can also negotiate pay rates on your behalf. 

NHS Dental Nurse Pay Scales

NHS dental nurses are paid on a band system. Their starting salary is usually between band 3 and band 4 of the Agenda for Change pay rates. Those with less than 2 years' experience can expect to earn £21,730 on band 3, while those with 2+ years' experience can make up to £23,177. Those on band 4 with less than 3 years' experience can earn £23,949, and those with 3+ years can earn up to £26,282.

For senior dental nurses, their starting salary can be band 5 or higher. Those on band 5 can expect to earn £27,055 with less than 2 years' experience, £29,180 with 2-4 years' experience, and up to £32,934 with 4+ years' experience. The salary range is dependent on the number of years' experience a dental nurse has in the field.

Here are the approximate hourly rates for the NHS dental nurse pay bands based on a 37.5 hour workweek:

Band 3:

  • <2 years' experience: £11.12 per hour

  • 2+ years: £11.95 per hour

Band 4:

  • <3 years' experience: £12.79 per hour

  • 3+ years: £13.95 per hour

Band 5:

  • <2 years' experience: £14.01 per hour

  • 2-4 years: £15.45 per hour

  • 4+ years: £17.28 per hour

Private Practice Dental Nurse Pay Scales

Pay for dental nurses in private practices can vary depending on a number of different factors, such as the location of the practice, the size of the practice, the experience of the dental nurse, and the duties and responsibilities required of the position. Generally speaking, however, dental nurses working in private practices can expect to earn a salary that is competitive with the national average.

According to the National Careers Service, the average salary for a dental nurse in the private sector in the UK is around £19,000 to £25,000 per year. However, this can vary widely depending on factors such as experience, location, and the size and reputation of the practice.

Some dental nurses working in private practices may also receive additional benefits, such as bonuses, paid time off, health insurance, and pension contributions. In addition, dental nurses may have opportunities for career advancement in private practices. This may include taking on supervisory or management roles, or specialising in areas such as orthodontics or implantology as we mentioned earlier.

It's worth noting that these figures are just a rough guide. The specific salary for a dental nurse in private practice may vary depending on a number of factors. It's always an wise idea to research the average salaries in your area and industry to get a more accurate idea of what you can expect to earn - and then use these figures in your salary negotiations.


Agency Dental Nurse Pay Scales

According to data from Indeed, the average hourly rate for a dental nurse working through an agency in the UK is around £10 to £18 per hour. However, if we were you, we’d immediately discount any agency who is paying less than £14 per hour - as agency life can have its difficult moments!

If you are a confident nurse who loves meeting new co-workers and working in different settings, then working for an agency might be the most ideal way to boost your income. Due to the fact that as a locum dental nurse you are available at short notice and have to travel from one job to the next, you are given a much higher hourly rate of pay. 

For same-day bookings, some agencies like Opal Dental Locums (that’s us!) will pay you up to £22 per hour, which is double the national average salary for dental nurses.

All agencies are not the same though - and it is imperative to choose an agency who cares about their locums and doesn’t simply see them as a line item on their balance sheet.

That way, you'll always have someone to turn to when you need a good laugh, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a friendly ear to listen to!

A good agency will take the time to get to know their locums, understand their goals and preferences, and provide helpful advice and support along the way. This helps ensure that you (the locum) have a positive experience and that the agency is able to provide a tailored service that meets your individual needs.

Ways You Can Boost Your Dental Nurse Pay Prospects


As a dental nurse, there are several ways you can boost your pay prospects. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Pursue additional qualifications: One way to boost your pay prospects is by pursuing additional qualifications. Consider getting certified in specialised areas such as dental radiography, sedation dentistry, or orthodontics. These certifications demonstrate that you have the skills and knowledge to perform specialised tasks, which can lead to higher pay.

  2. Gain experience: The more experience you have as a dental nurse, the more valuable you become to employers. Consider working in different dental practices to gain experience in different areas of dentistry. This will also help you build a network of contacts that may lead to new job opportunities.

  3. Negotiate your salary: If you feel that you are being paid less than what you are worth, don't be afraid to negotiate your salary. Research what other dental nurses with similar experience and qualifications earn and use this information to negotiate a higher salary.

  4. Take on additional responsibilities: Ask your employer if there are any additional responsibilities you can take on that would warrant a higher salary. For example, you could take on administrative tasks such as managing inventory, ordering supplies, or handling patient records.

  5. Network: Attend dental conferences and seminars to meet other dental professionals and learn about the latest techniques and technologies. Building your network can help you find new job opportunities and may even lead to job offers from employers who value your expertise. Sometimes, the most effective way to get a salary increase is to simply change jobs.

  6. Keep up with industry trends: Stay up-to-date with the latest developments in dentistry. Read dental journals and attend continuing education courses to keep your knowledge and skills current. This will help you remain competitive in the job market and may lead to higher pay.

Dental Nurse Career Pathways


As a dental nurse, there are several career pathways you can explore. Some of these pathways include:

  1. Locum Dental Nurse: A locum dental nurse provides temporary support to dental practices that require additional staff due to staff absence or increased workload. The hourly rate for locum dental nurses ranges from £12 to £20 per hour depending on location and experience.

  2. Dental Hygienist: Dental hygienists are responsible for providing preventative dental care and cleaning services to patients. They work alongside dentists to help patients maintain good oral health. The average hourly rate for a dental hygienist in the UK is £34 per hour.

  3. Dental Therapist: Dental therapists work closely with dentists to provide a range of dental treatments, such as fillings and extractions. They may also carry out routine dental procedures, such as cleaning teeth and taking X-rays. The average hourly rate for a dental therapist in the UK is £28 per hour.

  4. Dental Practice Manager: A dental practice manager is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of a dental practice. This includes managing staff, finances, and patient care. The average salary for a dental practice manager in the UK is £30,000 to £40,000 per year, depending on experience.

  5. Dental Education and Training: Dental educators may work as tutors or lecturers, teaching dental nursing students or other dental professionals. The average salary for a dental educator in the UK is £35,000 to £45,000 per year, depending on experience.

These are just a few of the career pathways available to dental nurses. It is important to research your options and choose a career path that aligns with your interests and goals.


Your Dental Nurse Pay Is In Your Hands


As a dental nurse, there is a wide range of career pathways to explore. It is important to research the various options and make sure to stay up to date on the latest developments in dentistry to ensure that you remain competitive in the job market. With the right education and training, you can find a career path that suits your interests and goals, and maximise your earning potential.


There are various roles available in the dental field that you can take on once you have begun dental nursing. With the right qualifications and experience, you can open the door to a successful and rewarding career in the dental industry.


We wish you the best of luck. We hope that this guide helps you understand the layout of the industry and the opportunities you have as a new dental nurse.


Enquire About Our Dental Nurse Jobs At Opal Dental Locums Today


One of the easiest ways to increase your pay as a dental nurse is to become a dental locum nurse. Get in touch to find out what it's like to work at Opal, and whether locum-life is right for you.


We are here to give you a helping hand and answer any questions you might have. You can find out more and book an introduction call here:

A Guide To Dental Locum Life [PDF]

Discover if dental locum agency work is right for you, and find out more about how to accept jobs with Opal.

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