What Is A Dental Therapist?

Dental therapists are highly-trained dental professionals who work as part of the dental team to provide routine and preventive care in a role similar to that of a physician assistant in medicine. The care and services they provide complement a dentist and dental hygienist, increasing the productivity and reach of the full dental care team. Dental therapy education programs are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), the same body that approves training programs for dentists.

How do dental therapists improve care?

Dental therapists are supervised by dentists and work as a part of the dental care team that includes dental hygienists and dental assistants. Employing dental therapists gives dentists the ability to expand the reach of their practice, whether by expanding their office hours, creating a remote office in an under-served area, or by offering dental therapists' services in community settings like schools and nursing homes. Dental therapists are trained to provide many of the most frequently needed procedures including filling routine cavities—helping care for communities most in need.

How do dental therapists help communities?

By allowing dental therapists to practice under the supervision of dentists, New Mexico can create well-paying jobs for its communities, as well as meeting important oral health needs. Dental therapists can be trained in local colleges, providing opportunities for a local high school graduate to attain a specialized degree and a well-paying job while also allowing them to live and work in their own community. Conservative estimates indicate the average dental therapist in New Mexico will make a starting annual salary of $60,000.

How do dental therapists help the dental team?

Hiring dental therapists is a cost-effective way to increase access to care while also providing dentists with an opportunity to grow their business considerably. Dental therapists bring new capacity and flexibility to the dental care team. By focusing on routine procedures, they free up dentists to provide more complex care to patients. Dental therapists increase productivity of the full team, extending more comprehensive care to areas where there are shortages. 

Where are dental therapists nationally?

Dental therapists are currently working or are authorized to work in Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington State, and Vermont. At least ten more states are currently working on legislation. Over the last fifteen years that dental therapists have been practicing in the United States, they have established themselves as an essential part of the dental team, helping to deliver care for those that need it most and creating much-needed jobs. Where employed, dental therapists are:

  • Reducing wait times for appointments and travel times for people in rural areas
  • Improving patient outcomes by reducing the need for more costly treatment, tooth extractions, and the use of general anesthesia
  • Creating much needed professional wage job opportunities in local communities

The Bottom Line: Dental therapists are a win for patients, dentists and the community!