Dental therapist

Dental therapists are essential members of the dental team. They carry out routine treatment prescribed by a dentist. These may include:

  • tooth restorations on both the primary and permanent dentition
  • placement of pre-formed crowns
  • pulp therapy treatment on the primary dentition (children)
  • primary dentition tooth extractions (children)
  • taking radiographs (x-rays) of the teeth and jaws

They complete some of the work that a dentist can do. They are an increasingly important member of the dental team.

Dental therapists also educate patients about their oral and general health, including:

  • smoking cessation
  • dietary advice
  • alcohol brief interventions

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To become a dental therapist, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Maths
  • Physics

A Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare, studied in S5 or S6, could give you valuable work experience.

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.

At college, you could do an HNC or HND to set you on the right path. These include:

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

To practice as a dental therapist in NHSScotland, you need to complete an approved General Dental Council Pre-Registration Programme. This can take 3-4 years full-time.

In Scotland, you can study oral health sciences at:

  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of the Highlands and Islands

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

The role

As a dental therapist, you will be responsible for educating patients alongside your clinical work. You will help address problems like bleeding gums or bad breath by promoting good oral healthcare practices and carrying out treatment to prevent and solve these conditions.

Working with other members of the dental team, you may treat a wide range of patients in vulnerable or priority groups, such as those who:

  • are anxious
  • have medical issues
  • are physically disabled
  • have learning disabilities
  • have high levels of untreated decay
  • are unable to access regular NHSScotland dental care

What you’ll do

Your main tasks include:

  • educating and advising patients about smoking, nutrition and prevention of oral disease
  • periodontal therapy including scaling and polishing of teeth
  • administering local anaesthesia
  • monitoring oral disease and screening for oral cancer
  • placing fillings
  • taking dental x-rays
  • extracting baby teeth and special root fillings on baby teeth

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • communicating with people
  • listening
  • motivational techniques
  • relationship-building skills
  • working in a team

You must also be skilled in manual dexterity which is the ability to make coordinated hand and finger movements to grasp and manipulate objects.

Who you’ll work with

You could work with:

  • dentists
  • dental nurses
  • dental hygienists
  • dental technicians
  • consultants and other specialists
  • orthodontic therapists

Working environment

You could work in:

  • dental practices
  • hospitals
  • schools
  • community clinics

Useful information

To work as a dental technician in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Learning and development

Once qualified, you must register with the General Dental Council (GDC). Afterwards, you can join the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT) or the British Society of Dental Hygiene & Therapy (BSDHT).

As a dental therapist, you would be expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This is in order to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. Every 5 years, you must complete 75 hours of CPD activities that include:

  • attending seminars, events and courses
  • taking in-house training courses
  • writing articles for journals
  • taking private studies, such as online courses or postgraduate study

You must do this to maintain your registration with the GDC.

Career Progression

Progression is possible and with experience, there are opportunities to develop additional skills that will allow you to practice:

  • whitening
  • inhalation sedation

With the right experience, you might move into teaching. You could then lecture at university as a tutor in dental therapy. You will need additional postgraduate teaching qualifications. You may also combine this with your own research if you are interested in this aspect of progression.

It’s possible you can complete a further qualification specialising in paediatric dentistry or implantology. You could also complete a Masters or Doctorate if you’re interested in developing your expertise in a specialist field of dental healthcare.

It may interest you after qualification to apply to undertake an additional degree in dentistry. Some universities offer a graduate entry route and accept students who have graduated with a 2:1, including a BSc in Oral Health Science.