What is a Dental Therapist?

Dental Therapists are oral health care professionals part of a multidisciplinary dental team. They are trained to offer preventative advice and treatment tailored to patients specific needs. They can also perform basic clinical dental treatment.

History

Originally known as Dental Auxiliaries, Dental Therapist’s have been a part of the dental field since the early 1960’s in the UK. Yet very little is known about their role in general dental practice.

The concept of a Dental Therapist has been adapted from the successful scheme in New Zealand, which has been around since the 1920’s. The idea of this scheme was to train these professionals to carry out fillings without pulpal involvement. Which meant, they were the first point of contact to patients in rural communities. They then may need an onwards referral to the Dentist.

During the 1950’s in the UK there had become a shortage of Dentists in the school services and children’s dental health was on a rapid decline. With visits to New Zealand and seeing how well the scheme was working over there. The Dentist Act of 1956 was changed to allow training of ‘Dental Auxiliaries’, with the first training school opening in 1960. Unlike the New Zealand scheme, in the UK Dentists referred the patients to the Dental Therapist.

Originally, Dental Therapists were only allowed to work in hospitals, community dental services and armed forces. This was changed on July 1st 2002 by the Dental Act, thanks to the pressure of the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT). This now allowed Dental Therapist’s to work in general dental practice, as part of the dental team.

Despite this change, there are still very few Dental Therapists working in General Dental Practice, with the majority still heavily based in community or hospitals. Although this is on a slow incline.

What Treatments Can Dental Therapists Carry out?

Most Dental Therapist’s are also dually qualified, meaning they receive a qualification in Dental therapy and Dental Hygiene.

Along with other members of the Dental Team, Dental Therapist’s must be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC) and carry out 150 hours of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) over a 5 year cycle. To ensure they are up to date on all current preventative advice and treatment procedures.

Like Dental Hygienist’s, Dental Therapists also have an important role in promoting good dental health and preventing dental disease. They can treat both adults and children and can carry out the same treatment as Dental Hygienist’s, but are trained to carry out extended procedures, from a prescription by the referring Dentist.

The procedures a Dental Therapist can carry out are:

  • Providing Dental Health Education- including, oral hygiene instruction, smoking cessation, dietary advice etc
  • Intra and Extra Oral Examinations – including cancer screening
  • Scaling and Polishing
  • Taking Dental Radiogrpahs
  • Applying materials to teeth, for example Fluoride Varnish and Fissure Sealants
  • Administer Local Anaesthetic (prescription from the dentist)
  • Take Impressions
  • Restorations (fillings) in adult and children’s teeth
  • Placements of preformed metal crowns on children’s teeth
  • Pulp Therapy and Extraction of children’s teeth
  • Emergency temporary replacement of fillings and crowns

With additional training and courses Dental Therapists can also carry out:

  • Tooth whitening (prescription from the dentist)
  • Administering inhalation sedation
  • Removing sutures after the dentist has checked the wound

The Future for Dental Therapists

With the majority of Universities now only offering the Dual qualification for Dental Therapy and Dental Hygiene, there is going to be a steady incline of Dental Therapists in Dental Practice.

Especially in practices where the referring dentist requires more time for complicated cases. Dental therapist are available to complete the simple cases, ensuring that the patient still receives the quality care they would be given by the dentist with a reduced cost in treatment fees.

 

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