Oral Health Highlights – are dental therapists the solution to the crisis?

oral health highlightsThis month for Oral Health Highlights, Amber Ojak discusses the true potential of dental therapists and how they can help resolve the dental crisis. 

Recently I have seen many people talk about the dental ‘crisis’. There have been many articles published on how multiple NHS dental practices are closed to new routine patients.

I actually discussed this whole topic in February 2021. Therefore, it is slightly worrying that we are now 16 months down the road and no one is waking up to the obvious solution in front of them.

Every day patients tell me about how their friends cannot access dental care. In addition, some have not been seen by their NHS dentist in years.

So, it baffles me that 350 dental therapists qualify every year from multiple dental schools. Yet we are still not being utilised to our full potentials.

Full scope of practice

There are many dental therapists across the UK who are not using their full scope of practice. This includes:

  • Completing oral health assessments within their scope of practice
  • Oral cancer screenings
  • Root surface debridement/non-surgical periodontal therapy
  • Taking dental radiographs
  • Placing fissure sealants and fluoride varnish on teeth
  • Taking dental impressions
  • Extracting primary teeth
  • Providing restorative fillings on adult and children’s teeth
  • Placing primary metal crowns on children’s teeth
  • Administering local anaesthetic including infiltrations and ID blocks.

Ultimately, the scope of practice for dental therapists is not as well known for dentists. In addition, I think there needs to be a bigger focus on educating the whole dental team on what a dental therapist can do to ease the back log of patients.

NHS barrier

There are many great examples of dental therapists who are thriving and using their full skill set at the moment. Furthermore, the NHS should be taking note of how well we can be implemented into practice.

As we all know, the main barrier is the NHS performer number. It is still not being discussed as widely as I think it should be for dental therapists. This prevents us from opening a course of treatment for patients and means we still need to work under the prescription of a dentist in an NHS setting.

Privately we can utilise direct access which means patients can see us without needing to see a dentist first. It also means we can work within our scope of practice. We are able to work this way privately and have proven it works effectively. Surely then the argument to give us our list numbers is very strong.

I really believe the crisis being highlighted in the press can be resolved by the dental therapist work force.

It still amazes me that they are not picking up on this obvious solution.

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