A female representing dental therapists fist-bumping a smiling child in a dentist's chair

Why You Should Consider Working With Dental Therapists

Wish you could find a way to better serve patients most in need and grow your practice, but without the financial stress of hiring another dentist or taking on extra work yourself? If so, then it might be time to look into the work of dental therapists.

Let’s take a look why.

In some parts of the country, it’s challenging to find the care and services you need. Just imagine living in a rural area, where simply finding the right grocery store to fit your needs can take up half of your day.

Now, imagine living in that same small community and trying to find the perfect place to receive dental care that gives you the smile of your dreams.

Although it’s a tough predicament, there’s a position in the dental industry designed to help people facing these exact challenges.

In many ways, that’s exactly what dental therapists do.

Dental therapists are fully capable of helping isolated or more impoverished communities find access to the care they need.

And, although the position has been around for over sixty years and familiar to those in the dental industry, many people don’t really know what a dental therapist is.

Let’s take a look at how dental therapists improve smiles throughout areas most in need, and how they can help your practice thrive and grow.

What is a dental therapist?

Dental therapists are mid-level providers, similar to physician assistants in medicine. While they’re not certified dentists, they perform many of the same services, and receive similar levels of training for many necessary routine tasks.

Often, dental practices will hire dental therapists provide care to more patients, grow their business, and provide treatment to underserved community groups.

As part of their training, dental therapists are required to attend at least three years of full-time schooling.

They also work with wider range of settings compared to a traditional dentist. They can be hired at clinics, nursing homes, schools, and regular dental offices. Typically, they also spend time in areas where oral health treatment remains difficult to come by.

For example, dental therapists operate in more remote regions, like Alaska. In 2004, dental therapists spent time working with the state’s tribal communities, with others working with similar communities in Minnesota, Maine, Oregon, and Washington. 

As part of their training, they learn how to work with dentists and other members of dental teams, and receive training to match the skills taught to a traditional dentist.

And, it appears to be paying off.

For example, one 2017 study showed that residents in Alaskan communities with dental therapists received more preventive care and fewer extractions than residents without them.

With the addition of dental therapists to dentists’ teams, more than 40,000 Alaskan residents received care, which otherwise, would remain out of reach.

What types of care do dental therapists provide?

Dental therapists offer a number of useful skills, such as:

  • Obtaining a detailed dental history from patients and evaluating their medical history. 
  • Carrying out a clinical examination within their competence. 
  • Completing periodontal examinations and charting, and using induces to screen and monitor periodontal disease.
  • Diagnosing a treatment plan within their competence.
  • Prescribing radiographs.
  • Taking, processing and interpreting various film views used in general dental practice. 
  • Planning the delivery of care for patients. 
  • Giving appropriate patient advice.
  • Providing preventive oral care to patients.
  • Liaising with dentists over the treatment of caries, periodontal disease and tooth wear.

There is also a long list of treatments a dental therapist can carry out, including:

  • Undertaking supragingival and subgingival scaling and root surface debridement using manual and powered instruments.
  • Use appropriate antimicrobial therapy to manage plaque related diseases.
  • Adjust restored surfaces in relation to periodontal treatment.
  • Apply topical treatments and fissure sealants.
  • Advise patients on how to quit smoking. 
  • Take intra- and extra-oral photographs.
  • Give infiltration and inferior dental block analgesia.
  • Place temporary dressings and re-cement crowns with temporary cement. 
  • Place rubber dams.
  • Take impressions. 
  • Care of implants and treatments of peri-implant tissues. 
  • Carry out direct restorations on primary and secondary teeth.
  • Carry out pulpotomies on primary teeth.
  • Extract primary teeth.
  • Place preformed crowns on primary teeth. 
  • Identify anatomical features, recognize abnormalities and interpret common pathology.
  • Carry out oral cancer screening.
  • If necessary, refer patients to other healthcare professionals.

So, while it’s clear there are plenty of ways dental therapists can help those with few other options for oral treatment, is it possible for them to also help you within your own dental practice?


A smiling dentist in his office sitting above a patient
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How dental therapists can help dentists

Just looking at the above list, it’s easy to recognize how dental therapists can help you grow.

Although complex procedures may remain beyond their training, their ability to undertake such a huge variety of routine tasks can prove valuable, nonetheless.  By incorporating a dental therapist into your work, you add a trusted person to your team who can help take some weight off your shoulders. 

Another thing to consider is that dental therapists are meant to be flexible. Having someone trained to work in various different environments with changing conditions can be beneficial if you’re looking to expand your reach.

Additionally, dental therapists generally receive lower salaries than traditional dentists. This allows you to expand your team in a more cost-effective way.

Use the resources the industry provides

As a dentist, you work with countless tools every day, and know what every piece of technology in your office does.

You know the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

A good dentist stays up to date on all of the resources available to them.

But, useful tools aren’t always just objects. Trained professionals with critical skillsets are available to help you achieve your goals, treat your patients, and grow your business.

If you are still curious about whether or not a dental therapist could be useful to your community or your team, consider reaching out and talking with one. By continuing to stay in touch with other members of the community, you can help make your practice the best it can be.



About First Choice Dental Lab

First Choice Dental Lab is a full-service dental lab with locations in Downers Grove, Il. & Wauwatosa, Wi.

We manufacture & customize quality dental restorations for general dentists. We create smiles based on your needs and budget.

We’re here to help you give your patients a reason to smile!

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