Dental therapists are licensed dental care providers that provide community education and some of the most common dental procedures such as preparing and filling cavities. They work as part of a dentist-led team complementing the work of dental hygienists and dental assistants.
Dental therapists can work in any setting, but they are specifically trained to extend routine care into chronic shortage areas. They provide community education and the most frequently needed procedures including preparing and filling routine cavities and simple extractions. Dental therapists work as a part of the dentist-led dental care team including dental hygienists and dental assistants. They help to increase the capacity and productivity of the full team.
The Commission on Dental Accreditation, the same body that approves education programs for dentists, passed national accreditation standards for dental therapists in 2015. Currently, three schools in the U.S. are graduating providers, two in Minnesota and one in Alaska. Several more colleges and universities, including schools in Vermont, Arizona and Washington are preparing to educate dental therapists.
No. Broadly speaking, dental hygienists are experts on the soft-tissue (gums) and cleaning while dental therapists primarily focus on the hard surfaces (the teeth) and filling cavities. Note: every state is different so reference state law for the most accurate information on the care dental therapists can provide in your community.
Dental therapists are authorized in some or all settings in Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington, as well as through a pilot program in Oregon. Close to a dozen more states are exploring authorization.