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. 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 x-rays and undertake different monitoring procedures, such as oral cancer screening. A dental therapist is qualified to carry out clinical examination, diagnose (for example detect and diagnose tooth decay) and design a treatment plan for dental patients.
The clinical examination carried out by a dental therapist is within his or her competence, which means that if a patient has a hole in the tooth we can put a filling in or propose different treatment accordingly. If you present with a denture (plate) that fails we cannot propose a definite treatment that would solve the problem, because dental therapists do not make dentures. However, we still give advice on proper denture care and can outline the likely treatment options to make the patients aware of the choices available to them. We also take care of implants and the tissue around the implant.
On dental each visit, we take, update and evaluate the medical history of the patients, because our training includes learning about various medical conditions and medications as well as their impact on the general and dental health. We are also trained and fully competent in dealing with medical emergencies and providing basic life support (resuscitation).
Dental therapists can treat teeth with fillings and this care can be provided by us to both adult and children patients. We also place fissure sealants in the teeth that need extra help to protect from tooth decay. We can make the tooth or gum numb to provide comfortable treatment. If a patients has an emergency, for example toothache, broken tooth or lost crown we are competent to deal with that situation, i.e. place a temporary dressing, re-cement a crown and restore a broken tooth.
Dental therapists are also baby teeth experts - we spend a lot of time with children and learn various techniques about how to help the child relax during the visit. When it comes to milk teeth, apart from placing fillings, we can treat the pulp chamber of such tooth, put a crown (cap) on, or take the tooth out.
LEVEL OF QUALIFICATION
Dental therapists are trained equally as dentists are when it comes to using dental equipment and placing fillings - we use the same techniques, materials and our fillings are the same. Or, I should say, the filling the dentist puts 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. The difference is that dentists have a wider range of treatment they can offer to carry out - they design and make dentures (plates), perform root canal treatment and prepare the adult tooth for a crown. This is why they study for five years and dental therapist course is two-and-a-half years long. It is also a very intense course as dental therapists have only three weeks off during the summer holidays.
So keep calm and carry on - we are dental therapists and you are in good hands.