Dental therapists’ perspectives on dental therapy
Focus groups and telephone interviews with dental therapists in practice yielded these responses to the following questions.
Why did you choose to become a dental therapist?
- It seemed like a natural progression for dental hygienists
- I wanted to enter a profession where people in need could be served
- I wanted to provide more dental services in additional to dental hygiene services for my existing patients
- Treatment plans could be completed in a shorter amount of time
- In many cases, I could complete treatment on Head Start children rather than having to refer to a dentist
- I could reach child patients possibly at an earlier age and thus alleviate fear and pain
- I would be able to provide care where care wouldn't otherwise be available
What do you believe are the barriers, if any, to finding employment as a dental therapist?
- Confusion about what the “50% of the patient population” means [Note: It means that at least 50% of the dental therapist’s patients—not the entire practice population as a whole—must be on Medical Assistance or be underinsured.]
- Belief that dental therapists cannot get malpractice insurance coverage and dentists do not wish to assume that liability.
- The myth that dental therapists can treat only Medical Assistance patients
- A perception that dental therapy students receive less education and training than dental students for their scope of practice, and therefore provide a lower standard of care. [The reality is DT students are trained by dentists and educated to the level of a dentist within their scope of practice.]
- A need to encourage dentists who may be wavering about whether to hire a dental therapist to talk with a fellow dentist to get firsthand information from a trusted colleague
What do you think is the biggest advantage to the employer to having a dental therapist on their staff?
- Gives dentists a lot of flexibility and time to work on the more complex procedures (i.e. crowns, endo, denture appointments).
- If the dental therapist is also a dental hygienist there is a distinct advantage to being able to fill the schedule with hygiene patients if a patient fails their therapy appointment slot
- It’s financially a benefit (have a lower paid professional perform less expensive procedures)
What do you believe is the biggest advantage to patients to receiving care from a dental therapist?
- Employing a dental therapist allows the dentist to perform the more complex procedures that he or she may not have had time to do previously...while the practice continues to treat Medical Assistance patients through the dental therapists.
- One major benefit to patients of working with a DT is that they do not have to make several trips to the clinic in order to get all of their dental care completed.