Dental Therapist, a New Title in the World of Dentistry

To allow the dentist to focus on more complicated procedures, a dental therapist can work on basic procedures.

The University of Minnesota is leading the way in creating a new title in the world of dentistry, the dental therapist. Not a “shrink” for your teeth, but a new team member to bridge the gap between a dental hygienist and dentist. This new team member would be allowed certain functions such as basic preventative care and restorative treatment, along with the extraction of primary (baby) teeth. This concept would therefore allow the dentist and his assistant to concentrate on more of the meat of the practice.

patient and dental professional working on him
A dental therapist will work on basic functions to allow the dentist to concentrate on complex dental procedures.

fOkay, so let’s assume that we have introduced this new team member. Now where would they be most beneficial? Welcome to the somewhat controversial debate that has been going on for decades. In theory, dental therapists are specialties that would would go into under-served areas of a community targeting the public sector or public health clinics, to take care of filling teeth and other basic needs. Although, there are many states that are extremely restrictive in what they allow other staff members, besides the dentist, to perform. And what they can do, they must perform under the direct supervision of a dentist.

Some believe that this type of new position would also greatly benefit the growing senior population. A dental therapist would be responsible for the preventative care and minor restorative treatment to the geriatric patient. They could also be employed by adult care facilities and or travel to geriatric hospitals to care for the needs of those patients admitted there. With our growing senior population, oral health care is a big concern and one that poses a challenge for the family practitioner.

Some dentists may complain that someone other than a dentist performing “basic restorative treatment” (i.e. fillings) isn’t knowledgeable enough, and this arrangement may potentially put the public at risk.  There will be skeptics when it comes to this new title. Maybe if we had a dental therapist or similar position in place, either in a hospital or public health clinic, it would prevent drains on our healthcare facilities.

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This article is provided on behalf of West Palm Beach dentist Dr. Sam Sadati, www.floridasmiles.com

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