dental therapist vs dental hygienist

Dental professionals may be categorized into different roles, but they all play a crucial role in maintaining the good oral health of the patient. The dental hygienist and oral health therapist are two of the essential dental professionals that work along with the dentist. Both of these dental professionals educate patients on oral care and teach them proper techniques to maintain their oral health.

Many people get confused between a dental hygienist and an oral health therapist. Additionally, they consider both the professionals as one. It is essential to note that a dental hygienist performs different activities as compared to an oral health therapist. Dental hygienists are often focused on establishing a patient’s general health. They gather information and make a note of the current symptoms.

Oral health therapists, on the other hand, perform basic dental duties such as teeth cleaning and are also involved in implementing some invasive dental procedures. Let’s continue to read further and find out the differences between a dental hygienist and an oral health therapist.

What are dental professionals?

Dental professionals are people experts who help to improve your oral health and educate you on different types of dental issues that you may be experiencing. They guide you to make positive choices for maintaining good oral health and hygiene. There are several types of dental professionals that take part in your routine dental check-ups.  They are as follows –

  • Dentist – A dentist works with the patient to provide all the necessary dental treatments. This includes preventive procedures, correction of dental irregularities, and treating dental injuries in the mouth. Dentists have excellent knowledge of the human body and oral diseases. They are well skilled at diagnosing and treating the patient.
  • Dental hygienist – Dental hygienists play a crucial role in educating patients about their oral health conditions. They are mainly concerned with preventive dental health and gum disease. Some of the procedures carried out by a dental hygienist may include teeth cleaning, taking dental x-rays, and performing fluoride treatments. (1)
  • Dental therapist – A therapist carries pout routine dental work, for example, clinical examinations, teeth cleaning, screening the mouth for oral cancer. Additionally, oral health therapists work with patients with oral habits such as smoking or alcohol drinking. They are efficient in treating patients with dental anxiety or physical disabilities. (2)
  • Dental Nurse – A dental nurse usually assists the dentist. They may help with reception work and patient records. Additionally, they make notes while the dentist is examining the mouth, sterilize instruments, and keep a check on the dental inventories.
  • Dental technician – dental technicians are skilled in preparing crowns, bridges, braces, and dentures. They work to prescriptions from dentists and use a wide range of dental materials to craft dental appliances of superior quality.

Difference between a dental hygienist and a dental therapist

While many patients may get confused between the two, it is essential to note that a dental hygienist performs different duties as compared to dental therapist. Dental hygienist differ from oral health therapists in the following ways –

Key Role

A dental hygienist is a licensed dental professional who works together with a dentist to meet the oral needs of the patients. The critical role of dental hygienist includes –

  • Screening the patient for oral health assessment
  • Developing dental x-rays
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Performing preventive dental therapies like fluoride treatment and sealant placement (3)
  • Educating patients on oral health care and hygiene measures
  • Counseling patients about nutrition
  • Taking impressions and preparing study models
  • Perform office management activities

A dental therapist, on the other hand, is a primary oral health care provider who is trained to perform several essential clinical and preventive dental treatments. Some of the duties of an oral health therapist may include –

  • Provide affordable dental care and reach out to patients in inaccessible areas
  • Screen the patient’s mouth to asses the current oral status
  • Take routine dental x-rays
  • Health education is an integral part of an oral health therapist (4)
  • Perform therapeutic procedures in both deciduous and permanent teeth
  • Extract deciduous teeth under local anesthesia
  • Perform pulp therapy for primary teeth and place pre-formed crowns
  • Provide temporary emergency treatment s
  • Administer nerve block or sedation therapy under the supervision of a dentist
  • They are trained to work efficiently with patients having anxiety or physical disabilities

Qualification and training

A dental hygienist requires an associate degree in dental hygiene. This program usually takes three years to complete. Dental hygiene programs can be found in community college, technical schools, and universities.

During this course, the professional is exposed to a laboratory, clinical, and theoretical information and practices. Some of the subjects may include physiology, nutrition, radiology, pathology, medical ethics, dental anatomy, patient management, and periodontology.

Oral health therapists obtain a diploma in dental therapy. This course takes around 27 months to complete. Often some schools offer additional part-time courses for dental hygienists to qualify as oral health therapists. (5)

Some of the subjects of interest include dental health education, pathology, restorative dentistry, extraction, radiology, and pharmacology. During their course, oral health therapists learn excellent time management, organizational skills, and an empathetic approach to patient care.  They have excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Take away message

There is a wide range of dental specialties that cater to different types of roles and practice management. The dental hygienist and dental therapist are two of the prime dental professional categories that may share some conventional roles but differ from each other in various ways.

Often patients get confused between the two professionals. Therefore, it is essential to know the critical differences between a dental hygienist and an oral health therapist. Both dental professionals are concerned with patient education about the importance of oral health and hygiene.

However, dental therapist usually consists of additional clinical responsibilities as compared to a dental hygienist. Additionally, the qualifications of the two professions also differ in terms of course study,  skill practice, and duration of the course. Although they may differ from one another, both the professionals play an essential part in dental practice and patient care.