Dentist is a person who is trained and licensed to practice dentistry. All dentists in the UK must be GDC registered.

Dentists in the UK fall into 5 main categories:

Principal Dentist
These are practice owners. They work either as contractors to the NHS or privately or both (this is called mixed practice). If they are contractors to the NHS they have their own contract number.

Associate Dentist
Associate dentists are not owners of the practice but have a financial arrangement with the principal. Like principals, they can contract (with their own contract number) to the NHS or work privately.

There are a variety of agreements made between associates and principals but usually the owner provides the associate with patients, surgery premises, equipment and materials, staff and facilities. The associate pays for these services (usually by means of a proportion of gross fees at the end of the month) commonly; the practice owner will split lab bills, hygienist costs and sometimes bad debts, at the end of the month.

The associate will have full clinical responsibility for their own work. They have their own contract with the local PCT to provide NHS treatment and, like all dentists, are registered with the GDC they are therefore personally accountable to complaints made to the PCT or to the GDC.

There are a variety of ways of dividing the 'gross fees'. Some arrangements have a fixed percentage, others a set monthly fee and some a sliding scale.

The gross fees are usually paid directly to the practice owner under a system called fee assignment. The practice owner must then calculate all expenses, divide the fees and pay the associate.

Advantage of this arrangement to practice owner is that he is not responsible for the associate's patient care or clinical competence. He is also does not have employment law responsibility to the associate.

The associate benefits from the tax benefits of being self-employed. He is also not protected under employment law and does not receive sick or holiday pay.

Assistant (Performer) Dentist
An assistant dentist is employed by the practice owner. Assistant dentist is an employee of another dentist. Any NHS work done by an assistant is done under his own contract number.

The dentist will treat patients registered to the practice. The assistant has no contract with the Primary Healthcare Trust and therefore any complaints, which are directed to the PCT, have to be answered by the practice owner rather than the assistant. However, the assistant is registered with the GDC and is personally responsible for complaints made to the GDC.

Vocational Trainees.
Vocational training lasts one year and takes place in approved practices. The position is salaried and after completing the year the dentist is awarding a vocational training number. A dentist needs a vocational training number to be an associate or a principal.

Employee in the hospital or community services.
These dentists are employees of the hospital or community service.

To become an associate, you need to have a VT number; if you are an EEA dentist you are exempt. This is awarded after a dentist has completed a year of Vocational Training in an approved practice. The Vocational Training position is salaried. The number of Vocational Training positions available in any one year, are limited.