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January 28, 2019 3 min read

What Is A Dental Health Therapist, Do They Have Really a Place In the Oral Health World?


The profession often referred to as a dental health therapist originated in Australia to be an extension of a dental hygienist as a way to provide high-quality oral health care to minority groups who wouldn’t otherwise have access to dental care.


 A licensed dental health therapist (DHT) works alongside a dental care team. They work to educate and promote positive attitudes to oral health and to provide preventive oral health care practices. The primary focus is on people who do not have the circumstance to receive needed dental care; namely low-income earners, those not insured, and those that live in rural areas.


DHT’s are qualified to carry out routine dental services such as taking x-rays, examining and diagnosing dental decay and gum disease, providing fillings and performing extractions. Certain advanced procedures are performed under the supervision of a registered dentist.  



How This Profession Is Emerging In America

A licensed DHT is a recognized profession in many countries worldwide (note though the title changes country to country). In 2009, the state of Minnesota was the first to pass legislation in America, allowing for a mid-level oral health provider. This oral health provider would sit midway between a dentist and a registered dental hygienist (much like a nurse practitioner is midway between a physician and a registered nurse). The educational model officially takes on the title Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner, in the state of Minnesota, however, this title varies state to state. Currently, a handful of states in the USA recognize this mid-level oral health provider, with more following Minnesota’s lead in the coming years. You can read more of an overview regarding the ADHP initiative here.


Where Do Dental Health Therapist Practice?

Due to the decrease of dentists in recent years, dental health therapist bridge the gap by practicing in areas that are underserved such as long-term care facilities, veteran’s hospitals, low-income clinic, rural areas, home-bound patients, and schools.


Is There Really A Place For Them In The Oral Health Sphere?

Currently, many Americans are not able to access the oral health care services they need. In addition, tooth decay is rapidly becoming the most common chronic disease among children in America, even though tooth decay is completely preventable if addressed in its early stages.


Nationwide dentists are decreasing, with a greater number of dentists retiring compared to the small number entering the workforce each year. These facts are compounded by the millions of Americans that do not have dental insurance or live in rural areas where it is hard to find dental care nearby.


According to Colleen Brickle, RHD, EdD, Interim Dean of Health Sciences at Normandale Community College, “This (mid-level oral health provider) is one step toward a health reform that addresses those who need oral health care the most”.


A dental health therapist can bridge the gap, allowing more of the population to have access to dental health care and to educate children from an early age on how to prevent and to take care of their oral health.


Dental health therapists are quickly becoming an integral part of giving everyone a chance to have a healthy mouth and body. Time will tell if more states will recognize the need for this profession.