As a recruiter for BGB, I have daily conversations with European dentists about starting a career in Dutch dentistry. For several years, the Netherlands has been dealing with a shortage of ‘home-grown’ dentists. As such, there are many job opportunities for foreign dentists who would like to work in the Netherlands.

Approximate reading time: 6 minutes

Every day, I receive tons of questions from dentists who specifically want to know what work in a Dutch dental clinic looks like. Which conditions should a dentist meet to be able to work in a Dutch clinic? Are these private or public practices? How many patients does a dentist see per day on average? What are the options for professional development?

This is why I decided to talk with Fenny Bakker, entrepreneur, director and co-owner of six dental clinics in the East of the Netherlands. As Fenny has employed multiple BGB dentists in her clinics over the past few years, she is one of the best people to talk to if you want to get an idea why it can be interesting for you to work in Dutch dentistry!

Communication and hospitality

An important question that dentists often ask me is: what is expected of me in Dutch dental clinic? For Fenny, it starts with two words: communication and hospitality. As an entrepreneur with many years of experience, Fenny knows that hospitality is a common theme throughout many areas of work, including dentistry. Fenny herself started in the clothing industry, and eventually found her way into dentistry. Her vision is: “From the front door, all the way to the reception and treatment room, the patient should feel comfortable and at home. It is my job as an entrepreneur to instill this communal feeling.”

“Hospitality is inseparable from communication. As a dentist, you should show that you take your time for the patient, making them feel valued and taken seriously, which they will repay with their confidence in you as a dentist. It is also important to have a chat with the patient, especially if they are in a rough spot in their personal lives. This is something that you can find out quickly through conversation. At the end of the day, the patient does not want to get the sensation that you, as a dentist, are rushing through a treatment, even when the waiting room is full and you might see between 25-40 patients in a day. Especially because you see most patients only twice a year, communication is the key to a successful treatment.”

“While all of this applies to both Dutch dentists and dentists from other countries, it is important that, as a foreign dentist, you make clear to the patient that you are from abroad and that you are doing your best at the clinic. By clearly communicating this in Dutch, this will allow you to immediately connect with the patient. I have witnessed patients bringing little gifts for the dentists, from their country of origin. This of course mean that they’re very happy with their dentist.”

Like all dental practices in the Netherlands, Fenny’s clinics are private. The patient is free to choose a clinic. This is all the more reason why communication, the right treatment and hospitality are essential to forge a bond with the patient, encouraging to come back to you for their next check-up! Especially since the prices of treatments are fixed, it is the quality you offer that makes the difference.

This is the very reason that BGB has specialised itself in offering a high-quality, intensive language course, during which the dentist learns all necessary aspects of the Dutch language, both dentistry-specific and in general. In this way, over the course of a few months, the dentists are prepared for the real work: communicating with and offering Dutch patients high quality dentistry in a Dutch dental clinic.

In addition to the fact that a good command of the Dutch language is now required to be able to be registered as a dentist, BGB has always supported the idea that communication in Dutch is essential for a successful career and integration in the Netherlands.

The right match

Fenny has been using the services of BGB since 2014, and has by now seen many nationalities of dentists work in her clinics.

The selection of a dentist for one of Fenny’s clinics is a cooperation between BGB and herself, because in the end, the objective is to find a dentist whose skills and ambitions match the needs of the clinic. In order to find out which dentist is the best fit for her clinics, Fenny often visits the dentists in person at the BGB Academy in Seefeld, where the dentists stay for several months as they learn the Dutch language.

In addition to finding a dentist who aligns professionally with what her clinic has to offer, Fenny also looks for a personal match: “You take a very good look in advance at what a clinic needs, and who matches this profile. As an entrepreneur, I have years worth of experience working with people, and I try to use this experience to find the right talent. By using the right talent in the right place, you create a winning team, which allows the dentists to grow as professionals and eventually specialise themselves.”

To see if there’s a match, the first meeting between Fenny and the dentist is very important. “Does the dentist look at me in the eyes, for example? Because if they do not, the chances are they will not look the patient in the eyes either. Are they communicative, pro-active, and do they have the right amount of courage it takes to make decisions? Do they show confidence?”

Apart from these personal qualities, a dentist in Fenny’s clinics needs the experience to work in Dutch dentistry. But what does this mean concretely? “Ideally, I look for dentists with a minimum of two years of experience, but in reality, this can vary a lot per person. Someone can have two years of working experience, but only have treated three to four patients per day. Conversely, someone with a year of experience might have already treated 15-25 patients every day.”

“One of our first Spanish dentists came here from university, and he did not yet have any real work experience. But after following one of our colleagues for a day, he took the initiative and started doing everything by himself! That is proper talent.”

“Other Southern European dentists we started working with, Sara and Nadia, too, rose to the occasion. They have the guts, do not fear anything, and stand by what they do. That is the spirit I am looking for.”

“So yes, it is best to have a couple of years of experience if you want to go to work directly, but some people are so quick to learn, that experience does not always tell the whole story.”

Cultural differences

With her having used BGB’s services since 2014, Fenny has seen many nationalities in her clinic. These are primarily dentists from Spain, Portugal and Romania. This naturally comes with a few amusing cultural differences: “We decided to buy a microwave for all clinics when we noticed that all of our Spanish dentists brought their own hot meals to work. They do not adapt to the Dutch habit of eating sandwiches for lunch. Apart from their cuisine, our Southern European dentists also miss the weather, which means they will often head back to their home countries during weekends and holidays. We think it is important to cater to that need as a clinic.”

On a professional level, Fenny notices that Spanish and Portuguese dental education is quite similar to that in the Netherlands, which allows them to adjust quickly. “Then there are Romanian dentists, who are very punctual and will not go home before everything has been taken care of for the day.”

“Another part of our culture is that we like to solve problems quickly. That is why I regularly lunch with our dentists to talk and catch up, discuss problems and look for solutions. I can notice that this approach is appreciated and is a pleasant form of cooperation. In other cultures, you can sometimes find a more hierarchical structure, which makes it a bigger step to discuss problems with your manager, but I like to let my dentists know that they can discuss everything with me.”

The assistant: respected and an indispensable part of the clinic

Apart from valuing the central concepts of hospitality and communication in her clinics, Fenny also emphasises the role of the assistant in the daily work of dentist. Contrary to many other countries, every dentist in the Netherlands works together with an assistant.

This assistant also enjoys respect in the clinic, which is reflected in their cooperation with the dentists. Fenny: “In our clinics, the assistants start working with foreign dentists on the first day, and this cooperation is successful. There is much mutual respect, and the assistant can help the dentist wherever it is necessary, which helps our foreign colleagues adjust all the more quickly. The dentist needs an assistant, and especially if you freshly arrived in our clinic from abroad, having an assistant by your side is a major boon. The assistant knows exactly what you need as a dentist, which results in efficient cooperation and high-quality dentistry. It is important to know, however, that as a dentist, you are the one communicating with the patient, and you are the one who is ultimately responsible for the quality of the treatment, while the assistant fulfills an important role in the background.”

General dentistry & specialisation

While in many other countries, it is customary for patients to only head to the dentist when they experience pain, Dutch patients typically visit their dentist twice a year. They might come for a routine check-up, but also a filling or other treatment, such as a crown, bridge, prosthesis, etc. As a dentist, you set the bar for the level of dentistry, and in turn the patient expects you to provide the optimal treatment. This also means that patients are, in general, prepared to pay the appropriate price. It is for this reason, as well as the shortage of dentists in the Netherlands, that as a foreign dentist, you may expect to do many treatments across the entire spectrum of general dentistry.

In regards to the different types of treatments: while Fenny sees that general dentistry continues to be the basis in the clinic, she notices that more and more dentists are specialising themselves. “It is a trend that has become impossible to ignore in dentistry. Particularly when it comes to aesthetics, there are a lot of dentists taking courses to develop themselves in this area. This adds more variation and challenge to their work, as they can, for example, dedicate the mornings to their specialisation, and fall back on their skills as a general dentist in the afternoons.”

In other words, your clinic will expect you to be able to work as a general dentist in the beginning, but specialisation-oriented development is encouraged along the way. Indeed, many clinics will grant you the space to find your own way in dentistry. This is one way in which you can continue growing as a dentist in the Netherlands.

Another recurring question is whether a dentist can start working in Dutch dentistry even if they are still lacking experience in the area of crowns and bridges. The short answer is ‘yes’. Fenny explains: “Not every patient wants a crown or a bridge; a filling is just as important. This means that, if you are not yet experienced with crowns and bridges, you start with the basis. It is important that you do know that basis, but you can temporarily leave the crowns and bridges to a colleague. In the meanwhile, I will be looking for courses, as it is important that you will eventually be able to perform these treatments yourself.”

Fenny does expect the dentists to show initiative when it comes to taking courses. This means that qualities such as pro-activeness, showing courage, and willingness to improve are some other important aspects of being a dentist in the Netherlands. When you can show to your clinic that you are willing to improve and develop, the clinic will be much more prepared to aid you in this process.

The Netherlands: Much more than Amsterdam

Many dentists ask me about the possibility to work in Amsterdam. Not surprising, as this is often the first Dutch city that people will think of. However, in addition to being known for all its perks as a booming city, Amsterdam also has a reputation for high living costs and a large amount of competition.

Another fact is that there are simply fewer vacancies in Amsterdam, which means that many BGB dentists live and work in other parts of the countries. This includes Fenny’s clinics, all of which are located in the East of the Netherlands.

To the question of why the Netherlands is a suitable country for foreign dentists, Fenny answers: “In Holland, everything is taken care of. People visit the dentist twice a year, and patients generally regret it if they skipped an appointment, as it might lead to increased costs (due to fillings, etc.). You always have patients here, as well as a front desk, a schedule and a full agenda. You can have anywhere between 25 and 40 patients in a single day, without rushing through treatments. You determine the level of dentistry here and do what you can to make sure the patient leaves the clinic satisfied. This is why your introduction and building a connection is so important, especially because you only see each other twice a year. If you succeed in building this connection, patients will want you as their dentist for the rest of their lives.”

And about the East of the Netherlands: “I would honestly advise BGB dentists to settle in the east as much as possible, as this make a tremendous difference when it comes to rent and other monthly expenses, leaving you more money to spend on fun activities. I should also mention that we have a solid public transport system in the Netherlands. This is a small country, and two to three hours of travel will allow you to go to any part of the country, including Amsterdam. We have seen many dentists settle in Zwolle, where different groups of friends have formed.”

With this interview, I hope to have given you a better idea of what a Dutch dental clinic expects of you as a dentist, and why the Netherlands can be an interesting and attractive destination for you.

As you have been able to read, communication is key. This is also something we repeat every day during our Dutch language course. Our goal, after all, is to give you the optimal preparation for your career in the Netherlands.

I hope to have answered some of your questions with this article. If you are interested about your possibilities, or if you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me!