In a study conducted by the Europe Journal for Oral Health in 2005, dentistry was described as a ‘stressful occupation’ where ‘job stress burnout’ was a regular occurrence. I wanted to know what it was really like to be a dentist, so I interviewed one.
In the first part of our exciting new spotlight-based-careers series, we are going to be exploring the professional world of dentistry. Spotlight careers is here to provide you with a taster into the working lives of young professionals. Whether you are a young professional, somebody who is looking at future careers, or just an observer, at VOU we will always be sharing an honest and upfront perspective.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr Mohammad Mozaffari, who works as an NHS Dentist, and visit his practice. The first thing that struck me was the complexity of dentistry; behind the scenes there is a lot of technical work and preparation that has to be done before a dentist can see patients. Given that dentistry is one of the toughest courses to study, whereby academic excellence is matched only by technical skill, it has a reputation for attracting the most committed, determined, and the best.
It’s this reputation that has allowed dentistry to remain competitive and highly selective. There is always fierce competition for university places, as students from around the world always want to study in the UK. It’s estimated every year that dental schools in the United Kingdom will receive anywhere between 750-900 applications, with most institutions offering 75-100 places. In order to become a dentist, it is essential to have a solid educational background, with a minimum of three A levels, including chemistry and biology, and a visual commitment, through some form of work experience in a health care setting.
Academia aside dentistry is an all-round unusual profession, the American Dental Education Association says “while dentists are mostly focused on patient care, they also often own and run their own businesses.” Dr Mozaffari shares a very similar view in that “dentistry is a way of life; being faced with a profession where trust, honesty and integrity are essential components, the most revolutionary dentists are those who fully understand, assimilate and practice these values.”
“Being a dentist brings heavy responsibilities, it is the only NHS service where point of service isn’t free, so you must pay the clinician at the point of treatment, rather than being eligible through your taxes.” If you see NHS dentists, rather than going private, it’s up to each individual practice, and dentist, to set the changes for what is excluded outside of primary care. Dr Mozaffari described the criteria for NHS private treatment as being very vague, “it falls to each dentist to interpret them [the criteria] as they would like, and often it’s their internal morals and personal situations to guide them.”
It’s never easy to be given this type of responsibility and power; being able to decide how much patients pay, and what is and isn’t included in their treatment. One thing that Dr Mozaffari told me, which really struck me, was how when it comes to these situations, which he faces on a regular basis, he always comes back to the core Islamic values that guide him. In order to find success he says you need to “maintain a lifestyle and outlook that is bound by values, ironically core Islamic values, trust, respect and honour.”
These values are universal, they apply to all careers, all jobs, all professions, and in everything we do. It’s easy to get lost and forget whom we are. What I mean by this is, in order to be truly successful we need to remember the values and beliefs we know to be true. If we remember the teachings of the AhlulBayt (as) in all that we do, we will be at peace with ourselves, because it is from the teachings of the AhlulBayt (as) where we can learn more about the value of morality, compassion and honesty. It’s important to remember that no matter what job you have, or what career path you choose, money doesn’t buy happiness and it certainly doesn’t buy success.
I got to see first-hand a very small glimpse into the day-to-day working of a thriving dental practice. Dr Mozaffari described an average day as always consisting of seeing and treating patients. He said “working in a less affluent area of London, a large majority of my patients are immigrants or migrants, who due to their personal situations, primarily attend when in severe pain, they need immediate remedial treatment.” Although being a dentist is a very tough and demanding job, for Dr Mozaffari it’s rewarding. Being able to help people is what drives and motivates him.
There are great benefits for dentists; they have job security and great future career prospects. It’s never difficult for a dentist to find work, especially in the NHS, they are almost certainly guaranteed to get a job when graduating, and after the first few years of working, once they gain some professional experience, their salary will increase. The career progression for dentists is huge because there are so many avenues for them to pursue; there are more than fifteen fields for them to specialise in, they can take on a clinical role and begin working in hospitals, and after five to seven years there’s always consultancy. One thing to remember is; we always need dentists, it’s a profession that won’t die out.
If there is a career that you want to find out more about, or have us cover in the forthcoming series, then send us an email. If you want to keep the conversation going then don’t forget to use the hashtag #VOUCareers.
Written by Sayed Hameed Mozaffari
 Hakanen, J.J., Bakker, A.B., Demerouti, E. (2005) ‘How dentists cope with their job demands and stay engaged: the moderating role of job resources’. European Journal of Oral Science 2005, 113: 479-487.