We spoke to Julie Deverick, a dental hygienist and the President of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT), about the role of dental therapists, what treatments they can offer and what you can expect when you go to see one…
What is a dental therapist?
Dental therapists are members of the dental team who can provide treatments like fillings, as well as give advice to you about how to maintain good oral health. They are also typically the professionals who see patients with unique treatment needs like dental anxieties, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, or those whom are unable to access regular dental care.
The role itself can vary depending on the dental therapist’s individual qualifications, but in many ways they are at the very heart of the dental practice, or locations they visit, as they offer support to both professionals and patients alike.
A wide umbrella of treatments
Dental therapists can offer a wide array of treatments. Part dentist, part dental hygienist and part educator, they can help patients in a number of ways, starting from diagnostics and continuing all of the way to post-treatment check-ups. They are able to perform x-rays and other assessments to check the condition of your mouth and teeth which means that they can check for any signs of abnormalities or conditions such as oral cancer.
In dental care, prevention is key, and dental therapists will often be the individuals applying protective measures to teeth such as fluoride varnishes (which help stop tooth decay) and fissure sealants (plastic coatings which prevent food and bacteria getting stuck in the grooves of your back teeth). Furthermore, just like dental hygienists, dental therapists can also provide maintenance treatments such as scaling and polishing of the teeth, helping to remove build-ups of hard deposits (calculus) and staining.
Routine restorations on both baby teeth and adult teeth can also be carried out by therapists, so it’s possible that if you need a filling a dental therapist may be the person performing the procedure. In addition, they are able to extract baby teeth, so your child may see them if they are suffering from a high level of decay and require an extraction.
As well as these treatments, dental therapists can perform other duties if they have undertaken the appropriate training. These extra skills may result in professionals training to become orthodontic therapists – individuals who can assist dentists who fit braces by preparing the teeth before braces are fitted and other supportive steps. Although many people are qualified to act as both dental hygienist and dental therapist, the main difference between the two positions is that dental therapists are generally able to provide a more diverse array of treatments than hygienists – just not the more advanced care that dentists can give.
Perhaps one of their most important roles, however, is as educators for the general public. Dental therapists are qualified to give dental advice in both one-to-one and group settings, helping to encourage people to look after their oral health.
This is especially useful to help patients better understand the importance of looking after their teeth, including patients who have learning disabilities or issues with understanding.
Why would you see the dental therapist?
The answer to this depends entirely on why a dentist refers you to the dental therapist in the first place. You may just need a straightforward treatment such as a filling or to have your teeth scaled to remove a build-up of deposits, and in this scenario the professional will also advise you on how to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. Or, if you suffer from any anxieties or disabilities, the dental therapist may be sent for to speak to you and calm you down before/during a procedure or to assist in ensuring that the dentist is able to give you the best care possible.
This is why a dental therapist is so important to a practice and patients – they are always by your side!
With over 30 years’ experience as a Dental Hygienist, Julie has much to offer the profession in her new role as President of BSDHT. She trained in the Royal Army Dental Corps, working in the UK and overseas clinics before spending the final six years of her military career back at the training school. This is where she became the Principal Tutor and gained her qualification in Certificate of Education.
Julie continues to work in practice so she understands some of the frustrations and limitations of the job, which is why she is keen to continue supporting members of BSDHT by working with the Executive Committee and others, to break the barriers that confine dental hygienists and dental therapists in the workplace.