How is a dental therapist different from a dentist?

By Sarah Chagnon, ADTA President, Dental Therapist, Swinomish Dental Clinic 

Dental therapists can fill/restore any part of the tooth as long as the tooth does not need treatment to the nerve. We use all the same materials a dentist would use. 

DTs can perform exams, diagnose cavities, perform simple extractions, place silver crowns on baby teeth, perform cleanings and provide lots of preventative. 

DTs cannot do crowns, dentures, partials, flippers, or bridges or carry out root-canal treatment, implants, and complex procedures.

DTs are taught around 100 procedures over 3 years' worth of training. In comparison, a dentist can perform 500+ procedures! 

There are now three CODA-accredited dental therapy schools across the nation. This means dental therapists' training is held to the same standard as a dentist's. Some universities and community colleges are looking to expand their educational programs by adding a dental therapy program. 

Dentists' schedules are often booked so far out because it's filled with simple fillings/restorations; for the people returning for care, it's months out before they can get on the dentist's schedule because their procedures require more time and are complex. 

Having a dental therapist be a part of your dental clinic team helps bridge the gap to access to care. They help relieve some of the procedures from the dentists so that they can focus on those complex procedures. This makes it so the clinic can operate efficiently, and all providers can work at their full scope of practice.

This opens access to care so people can get seen sooner before it's too late and their teeth cannot be saved. 

More than 50 countries have developed an alternative dental provider, a dental therapist practicing in public health services, and many school-based programs specifically to address access to care. Some countries are New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, and the UK. This delivery model has been demonstrated to improve access to care and oral health outcomes while providing quality care economically!

Currently, DTs in Washington can only work on tribal land. Oregon and Michigan have already passed state laws that they can work anywhere, not only on tribal land. Washington just passed a bill so any patient with Medicaid can get services paid for by a dental therapist. But the next step is to get DTs able to work statewide. 

SHB 1678, the bill for dental therapy, has been introduced to legislation and has passed the first committee round with a DO pass recommendation. Keep the momentum going so more people can get access to care by clicking on the link below to tell the lawmakers to pass this bill. To learn more about SHB 1678, click here

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