The role of the dental therapist remains unclear to many members of public as well as to other health professionals. There is not much awareness yet as to the scope of practice of the dental therapist. I recently heard from the dentist that he would not refer an adult patient to me because if they pay, they want to see a proper dentist and not a therapist. I felt like he thought that we have less clinical training than dentist do, which is not true. Dental therapist receive equal amount of training as dentist do when it comes to restorative dentistry, not including crowns, bridges, dentures and other prosthodontic work of course. I feel that if there is more understanding of the role of the dental therapist within the dental team, the dentist, receptionist, hygienist or customer service advisor will be better able to explain to patients that fillings is what dental therapist are experts at. Here I would like to put more light on what dental therapists do:
DIAGNOSIS AND TRATMENT PLAN
Dental therapists can work in all sectors of dentistry and have both clinical and health promotional responsibilities. They prescribe, take and interpret radiographs and undertake different monitoring procedures, including oral cancer screening. A dental therapist is qualified to carry out clinical examination, diagnose (for example dental caries, periodontal disease) and to treatment plan and design a delivery of care for dental patients.
The clinical examination carried out by a dental therapist is within his or her competence, which means that apart from periodontal and dental examination we check soft tissues, lymphadenopathy, screen for anomalies, manage patients with various appliances, take care of implants and the tissue around the implant. More information can be found on the GDC Scope of Practice document here and on the DDU website here.
Dental therapists can restore teeth with various materials including composite, glass ionomer cement, amalgam, fissure sealants and temporary cements, and this care can be provided by us to both adult and paediatric patients. We are trained to choose and place appropriate therapeutic lining if needed as well. We also place preformed crowns on primary teeth and carry out primary tooth pulpotomy and extraction. Dental therapists are fully qualified to administer local anaesthesia if a valid prescription is in place. If a patients has an emergency, for example toothache, fractured tooth or lost crown we are competent to deal with such situation, i.e. place a temporary dressing, re-cement a crown and restore a broken tooth.
LEVEL OF QUALIFICATION
Dental therapists are trained equally as dentists are when it comes to restorative care - we use the same techniques, materials and our restorations are the same. Or, I should say, the restoration the dentist places in the tooth is the same as the one placed by the dental therapist. Because our clinical training in this area is the same, the quality of care is equivalent. We can make our own decisions as to the choice of the restorative material and the sequence of delivery of the dental treatment. The difference is that dentists have a wider range of treatment they can offer to carry out - dental therapists do not design and make dentures, crowns, inlays, bridges, perform root canal treatment or carry out surgical procedures. This is why we study for two-and-a-half years compared to a five years long dentistry course. Dental therapy course is also an intense one as we have only three weeks off during the summer holidays.
We do not want to take the work away from the dentists; we want to contribute. So 'keep calm and carry on' - because your patients are in good hands.