Dental therapist

Dental therapists are increasingly important members of the dental team and are likely to be a particularly important component of future NHS dental care.

The work of a dental therapist:

Dental therapists can carry out all the duties of a dental hygienist and also provide:

  • simple restorations (fillings)
  • place pre-formed crowns
  • administer inhalational sedation
  • remove sutures
  • carry out more extensive treatments on primary teeth (as well as extractions under local anaesthetic)

Therapists can also gain additional skills to allow them to provide tooth whitening (under prescription of a dentist).

Dental therapists may treat patients who have high treatment needs.

Health education is an important part of the role and the dental therapist can carry out a range of procedures once trained and competent, including:

  • intra and extra oral assessment
  • scaling and polishing
  • applying materials to teeth such as fluoride and fissure sealants
  • taking dental radiographs
  • giving infiltration and inferior dental block analgesia
  • taking impressions
  • providing dental health education on a one-to-one basis or in a group situation

Working as a therapist in a dental practice gives you independence without the full responsibility of running a practice.

Many dental therapists work for Community Dental Services and provide treatment in a range of places in the community, such as schools and care homes.

Skills needed

To get on the course, you'll need five GCSE subjects at grade A to C, plus two A-levels or a recognised qualification in dental nursing.

Dental therapists carry out a range of clinical tasks and will often spend valuable time encouraging anxious patients to accept dental treatment.

This requires patience, and excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

An empathetic and caring approach is very important, in addition to proficient, highly technical clinical skills.

You will need to be confident to work on your own and be able to put even the youngest of patients at ease.

Much of your work is likely to be with children, older people and those with special needs.

Good time management and organisational skills are essential, along with attention to health and safety procedures.

At all times, a dental therapist needs to be mindful of the need for patient confidentiality.

Training

To practise as a dental therapist, you need to take a course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC) and then need to register with the GDC.

Subjects studied include:

  • preventive dentistry
  • dental health education
  • dental pathology
  • simple restorative procedures for both deciduous and permanent teeth
  • the extraction of deciduous teeth
  • radiography
  • pharmacology

Most training establishments offer a combined course in dental hygiene and therapy leading to a combined diploma.

The course lasts for around three years.

Some combined courses allow students who can't meet the criteria for the full combined diploma, to take the diploma in dental hygiene or certificate in oral health studies instead.

Some training establishments continue to offer the diploma in dental hygiene course, with no training in dental therapy.

A list of the training centres and contact details can be found on the British Association of Dental Hygiene and Therapy website.

Career pathway

Most dental hygienists and therapists work in dental practice, either on a full-time or part-time basis providing NHS and private treatment.

Some hygienists and therapists work in the CDS, the hospital service, the armed forces, industry and dental schools.

 

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