Dental Therapist: Programs, Courses & Training

Dental therapists are filling a role that allows them to perform duties beyond what dental hygienists are qualified to do. Read on to learn more about this career and how to train to become a dental therapist.

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Career Definition of a Dental Therapist

A dental therapist is a dental hygienist who has completed extra training to qualify to perform additional dental health care duties, but they are not qualified to perform all the functions of a dentist. The specific duties that they perform may differ from state to state. Like dentists and dental hygienists, dental therapists treat patients. They provide direct dental care for a range of dental health issues. Their duties can include removing teeth or providing treatments to teeth to improve their health.

Dental therapists may at times work under the direct or indirect supervision of a dentist. They may also be responsible for ensuring that other dental professionals, such as dental assistants, are performing their duties properly. Other duties they perform include fixing crowns or other appliances that a patient has and giving a patient nitrous oxide. They may also be qualified to give patients other types of medication as needed.

Educational Requirements Bachelor's degree and certification
Job Skills Leadership skills, communication skills, teamwork skills, computer skills, attention to detail
Mean Salary (2017)* $33.38/hour
Job Outlook (2016-2026)** 20% (dental hygienists)

Sources: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Dental therapists typically need to complete a bachelor's degree program in dental therapy or a related field, such as dental hygiene. Once they've graduated they must fulfill additional training requirements. This may include completing a clinical exam and a state exam.

Required Training Options

Dental therapists can opt to complete a program that involves earning a bachelor's in dental hygiene and a master's degree in dental therapy. It's possible to complete a dual degree program in three years of full-time study. Students may also opt to pursue a master's degree in advanced dental therapy, which requires that they've earned a bachelor's degree and are licensed dental hygienists. Once training is complete, graduates must take an exam to become a certified dental therapist. Dental therapists are also required to earn nitrous oxide oxygen analgesia certification so that they can provide these medications to patients during procedures.

Required Skills

Leadership skills are an asset for dental therapists because part of their duties may involve overseeing dental assistants as they perform their duties. Attention to detail is important because they may be involved with preparing medical equipment for treatments and their work can involve sensitive tasks such as removing teeth so they need to be aware of the patient's pain level and how they're responding to medications given to manage pain during the procedure. Communication skills are important to effectively explain the procedures to patients and educate them on how to care for their teeth following treatment. They also need to have computer skills to update patient records, and teamwork skills are important since they typically work closely with a number of other dental professionals.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that dental hygienists are expected to see a 20% rate of job growth from 2016 to 2026. This projection includes dental therapists because they are grouped with dental hygienists on the BLS occupational listing. According to PayScale, dental therapists earned an average hourly income of $33.38 as of 2017.

Related Careers

Since dental therapists fill a gap performing duties between those of dentists and dental hygienists, those considering this career may also be interested in becoming a dentist, a dental hygienist or a dental specialist such as a prosthodontist. It's also possible that these aspiring medical professionals may want to explore the work that nurse practitioners do, since they fill a healthcare role that falls between the role of nurses and doctors.

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