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Can your dental hygienist be an oral health therapist?

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To determine if your dental hygienist can double as an oral health therapist, you must first find out who an oral therapist is and what they do. Nonetheless, you should contact your dentist or visit the nearest dental hygienist if you have any dental health issues or concerns.

Origin

The profession of oral health therapy originated in Australia as an extension of the dental hygienist and dental therapist. It was introduced to address the dental needs of those in the rural areas, those in low-income areas and those who are underserved. From Australia, this profession has been widely recognised all over the world. Most specialists who wish to work as oral health therapist will have to undergo training first as a dental hygienist. After formal training as a dental hygienist, the specialist can now continue their training as an oral health therapist. This means that the oral health therapist is an advanced or specialised dental hygienist.

A changing practice

Dental hygienists receive their license and education according to the standards of the state they work in. Dental hygienists provide preventive care to patients with the ultimate goal of optimising their oral health. Dental hygienists are quite similar to dentists, and most times, they work in dental practices.

With time, it is believed that the oral hygiene therapy profession will be transformed to meet its intended purpose, which is to reach out to patients with limited resources and limited access to dental care. This ultimately means that the advanced-practice dental hygienist – oral health therapist – is in transition.

Qualifications

Oral health therapists do not only provide dental advice or treatment to those who are underprivileged. Their job also extends to the prescription of anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics and preventive agents like toothpaste for those who have crowns or are at high risk of cavities or other dental cases.

The duties and services of an oral health therapist must be overseen by a licensed dentist directly or indirectly. The services are overseen directly when the licensed dentist is present or overseen indirectly through general supervision. If indirect supervision is involved, the dentist will have to review or collaborate treatment.
Finally, the dental therapist can treat pain and disease, and in some cases, they can refer the patient to the dentist for follow-up care.

The basic duties and services that the licensed dentist can supervise include the following;

  • Assessment of the mouth
  • Basic extraction of the tooth
  • Management of urgent dental trauma
  • Preventative services that a dental hygienist normally performs
  • Formation of crowns for baby teeth from stainless steel
  • Simple cavity preparation and restorations
  • Administration of nitrous oxide and local anaesthesia

The need for oral health therapists

Dental or oral health therapists may not have been around for long; however, they have become well established in their fields. The bottom line remains that dental or oral health therapists provide care to dental patients that would not normally have it. In 2009, a programme called the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIS) was passed by Congress. This programme was specifically geared towards children that are born and raised in low-income families. Part of this programme looks up to the dental hygienists to fill in the gaps in care for the dwindling population of dentists. Sadly, in some areas and countries, the oral health hygienists received resistance from dentists who argued that they were not equipped to handle the many conditions under which people struggle to receive care.

Finally, the role of a dental or oral health hygienist in a dental practice or office is something you can always find out. When you see one, you can always walk up to them and ask them their role. You can ask them the following questions;

  • What are the services you offer in your place of work?
  • What services can my family or I expect from you?
  • Do you think this concept will improve public health, and why?

By striking up a conversation with a dental therapist, you will realise the need for an oral health therapist, and it will be easier to help others do the same.

Finally, finding out the role and need for an oral health therapist is the first and most important step to giving everyone a chance for a healthy mouth. To find out more about the role and services of a dental hygienist or therapist, you can visit nearest dental hygienist for more information.

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