Dental Therapist

The Job and What's Involved

Dental therapists, also known as oral health practitioners in the NHS, form part of a larger dental team. They provide clinical and educational dental support to adults and children in the community.

For all clinical work, a dentist will undertake the initial patient examination. The dentist will provide a written prescription for any treatment that the dental therapist will need to carry out.

Dental therapists' clinical duties can include:

  • Periodontal treatments, which can involve scaling and polishing teeth to remove bacteria.
  • Root surface debridement, using hand and ultrasonic instruments to remove plaque and calculus from the root surface.
  • Applying coatings, such as fluoride and fissure sealants.
  • Applying antibacterial and desensitising agents.
  • Carrying out routine fillings on adult and deciduous (milk) teeth.
  • Taking dental radiographs (X-rays).
  • Extracting, placing pre-formed crowns and carrying out nerve treatments on deciduous teeth.
  • Administering local anaesthetic under the supervision of a dentist.
  • Replacing temporary fillings and crowns.
  • Taking dental impressions.
  • Giving oral hygiene advice one to one or in groups.

Dental therapists could also advise and care for adults and children nervous about dental treatment, or people with special medical or learning needs.

They use a range of dental instruments and are assisted by a dental nurse.

Their health promotion role includes motivating and encouraging individuals and community groups to care properly for their teeth, gums and mouths. This can involve teaching and demonstrating brushing and flossing techniques, and giving advice about diet, stopping smoking and other health-related issues.

Most dental therapists work from 9.00am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Some may have evening or Saturday morning surgeries. Part-time work is possible. Dental surgeries are warm, bright, well lit and clean.

Dental therapists working in the community may have to travel to see patients in schools, community centres, residential homes or in their own homes. They may also work in a mobile clinic.

A uniform, surgical gloves, a face mask and eye protection are worn for all procedures. This is to reduce risks, such as cross infection, when carrying out treatments.

Starting salaries for dental therapists in the NHS can range from £20,710 to £26,839 a year. An NHS oral health practitioner specialist may earn between £24,831 and £33,436 a year. Advanced oral health practitioners may earn up to £39,273 a year.

In a private or general dental practice, dental therapists may be self-employed or may negotiate their salary with their employer.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Dental therapists can work in all areas of dentistry throughout the UK, including:

  • A general dental practice, offering both NHS and private dental treatments.
  • The hospital service, covering oral surgery, restorative dentistry, children's dentistry and orthodontics.
  • The salaried primary care dental service (SPCDS), providing community dental care to patients with special needs.
  • Dental public health, working in Primary Care Trusts, strategic health authorities and government offices.
  • Cosmetic dentistry.
  • The armed forces.

Some also work in dental schools. Dental therapists often work for several dental practices or services.

There are around 1,170 registered dental therapists in the UK. Many new entrants are dual qualified as dental hygienists and therapists. Good employment opportunities exist nationally.

Vacancies are advertised in the British Dental Journal and on the internet, including the British Association of Dental Therapists' (BADT) website and www.jobs.nhs.uk.

Education and Training

Dental therapists must register with the General Dental Council (GDC) and take an approved course, such as:

A Diploma in dental therapy (often combined with a Diploma in dental hygiene).

A degree in oral health sciences, or dental therapy and dental hygiene.

BADT and the British Dental Association (BDA) publication Careers in Dentistry have details of approved dental schools.

Applicants to approved courses must be at least 18 years of age with at least five GCSE's (A*-C). These should include English and biology, or another science. In addition, a minimum of two A levels are required. Check with course providers, as dental schools can accept alternative qualifications in place of, or combined with, A levels. These may include a nationally recognised dental nursing qualification, or AS levels, applied A levels, BTEC Nationals and the International Baccalaureate.

The Diploma in society, health and development may be relevant for this area of work.

All dental therapist trainees have their backgrounds checked by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) for working with children and vulnerable adults.

Relevant work experience as a dental nurse or dental hygienist is useful. Some courses prefer or require candidates to demonstrate some experience of working in a dental environment.

The University of Portsmouth offers a six-month, part-time foundation programme in science and dental therapy for qualified dental nurses who do not meet the academic criteria for entry to their degree programme. To be considered, students must have:

  • Five GCSE's (grade A*-C) or equivalent, including at least one science subject.
  • A recognised qualification in dental nursing.
  • GDC registration.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training for dental therapy also includes all the necessary training for dental hygiene. Graduates of the combined Diploma in dental hygiene and dental therapy are entitled to register with the GDC as both a hygienist and therapist, although two registrations are required.

Dental therapy courses provide a combination of theoretical study with work-based training to provide the practical clinical skills necessary to extract deciduous teeth and do fillings. Courses typically last between 27 months and three years.

Subjects studied include:

- Anatomy of the head and neck
- The immune system
- Progression of gum disease and decay
- The theory of teaching and promoting good oral health

Most of the second year is spent learning clinical skills, under close supervision. These include scaling and polishing the teeth, applying gels, sealants and fillings on adults and children.

After registration, dental therapists are expected to keep their skills and knowledge up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). Over five years, 150 hours of CPD have to be done, including mandatory courses, such as resuscitation skills, radiation and child protection.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dental therapist needs:

  • A genuine interest in patient welfare.
  • To enjoy working in a team setting, but to be equally comfortable working unsupervised.
  • The ability to gain the trust of a wide range of people, including children, elderly people and patients with special needs.
  • Good manual dexterity, a steady hand and good eyesight.
  • Excellent communication skills and to be able to give clear instructions.
  • A pleasant, friendly and reassuring manner to put anxious patients at ease.
  • To recognise what motivates people to care for their health.
  • Good time management skills.
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods when undertaking complex oral treatments.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced dental therapists could progress to dental practice management or move into research work or lecturing. Those who wish to specialise in health promotion can take the Certificate in oral health education.

A new area is orthodontic therapy where therapists will assist dentists to carry out orthodontic dental treatments.

Get Further Information

British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT),
8 Salmon Fields Business Village, Royton, Oldham OL2 6HT
Tel: 0845 257 3487
Website: www.badt.org.uk

British Dental Association (BDA),
64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS
Tel: 020 7935 0875
Website: www.bda.org

General Dental Council,
37 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 020 7887 3800
Website: www.gdc-uk.org

NHS Careers,
PO Box 2311 Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk , www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk and, for graduates and undergraduates, www.whatcanidowithmydegree.nhs.uk

Skills for Health, 2nd Floor,
Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Website: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

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