Dental therapists are increasingly important members of the dental team and are likely to be a particularly important component of future NHS dental care.
A dental therapist does much of the straightforward work that a dentist is able to do without the need for a referral from a dentist.
More dentists are adding dental therapists to the practice team to handle much of the routine dental work. Working as a therapist in a dental practice gives you independence without the full responsibility of running a practice.
Many dental therapists provide treatment in a range of places in the community, such as schools and care homes.
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
- undertaking routine restorations in both primary (baby) teeth and permanent teeth, on adults and children
- place pre-formed crowns on primary teeth
- extracting primary teeth under local infiltration analgesia
Dental therapists can also develop additional skills including:
- carrying out tooth whitening (under prescription of a dentist)
- administering sedation
- removing sutures after a dentist has checked the wound
Caring for patients with high treatment needs
The dental therapist may treat a wide range of patients who have high treatment needs, such as those who:
- are dentally anxious
- are medically compromised
- are physically disabled
- have learning disabilities
- have high levels of untreated decay
- are unable to access regular dental care in the general dental service
To practise as a dental therapist, you must obtain a diploma or degree in dental therapy and be registered on the General Dental Council’s (GDC) roll of dental therapists.
To get on the course, you will need five GCSE subjects at grade A to C, plus two A-levels or a recognised qualification in dental nursing. You may also be required to have some experience of dental nursing before taking the course.
Diploma in dental therapy
The diploma in dental therapy course takes about 27 months, depending on the dental hospital at which you study. Some dental schools offer part time courses for dental hygienists wishing to qualify as dental therapists.
Subjects studied include:
- preventive dentistry
- dental health education
- dental pathology
- simple restorative procedures for both deciduous and permanent teeth
- the extraction of deciduous teeth (previously known as baby teeth)
- radiography and pharmacology
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.