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Oral Health Therapist – What is the difference to a Dentist?

Patients frequently ask me to clarify the difference between a dentist and oral health therapist.

This question has emerged as the popularity of hygienists – or oral health therapists (OHT) – has escalated in recent years and is now considered the gold standard.

It’s useful for patients to understand their differences so they can make informed decisions about their dental care.

With a clearer understanding, both clinicians and patients can work from a basis of shared expectations.


What’s an Oral Health Therapist?

An Oral Health Therapist (OHT) is a 3 year degree-qualified clinician who has completed studies in dental hygiene and dental therapy.

An OHT mostly perform hygiene treatments with some other dental treatments for children up to the age of 18. These include fissure sealants, fillings and provide care for more severe forms of gum disease.

A dentist is also degree-qualified. They have completed five years of undergraduate study in dentistry. Educated in all facets of oral care, this higher qualification means dentists perform more complex dental work. A general dentist can diagnose oral health conditions. However, they may refer to other specialists if needed.

Both dentists and oral hygiene therapists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioners Registration Association (AHPRA). AHPRA has strict requirements for registered dental professionals, including annual compulsory professional development. Working like a kind of guarantee, this ensures your dentist or OHT are current with advances in science and dental practice.

Your dentist and oral health therapist complement each other in the services and care they provide.

How do a dentist and oral health therapist work together?

Once you’re on an oral hygiene maintenance program, you would meet with your oral health therapist. This is usually every six months or might occur every few months depending on your needs.

He or she would clean your teeth and gums. They would also administer fluoride treatments and check for gingivitis and other oral disease.

As the name suggests, an oral health therapist will discuss the way to properly care for your teeth. Oral hygiene is their main focus and specialty. 

Depending on the outcome from your check and clean, the dentist may also come in and see you at this time.

Often at the recommendation of the therapist, the dentist will be the one to diagnose any problems. This could involve examining x-rays, repairing teeth and prescribing medication.  

They may perform procedures like root canals, fillings for cavities, dental crowns and much more.

In simple terms, dentists can complete more skilled treatment. A therapist provides more general care and education for teeth and gums.

Why see an oral health therapist?

Both dentists and oral health therapists can clean teeth at regular hygiene checks. However, there are great advantages to working with an OHT for hygiene.Their whole and sole focus in their profession is ‘cleaning’ and educating.

While a dentist is kept busy with more complex treatments, an oral health therapist will spend much more time with a patient, thereby offering a more personalised experience. 

Another advantage to working with an oral health therapist is the fee is less than if a dentist were providing the same service.

Many oral health therapists are females. Some people may find it easier to receive their regular hygiene treatments from an oral health therapist. If you have a fear of the dentist, this is a good idea.

An OHT is qualified to treat both adults and children and can therefore see the whole family.

If you are on an oral hygiene maintenance program working with an OHT, this is considered the best option.

Still have questions?

If you’re still confused about whether seeing an OHT is a good option for you and your family, why not get in touch?

Our friendly team is trained to explain the difference between a dentist and oral health therapist and will help guide you in the right direction based on your specific oral hygiene needs.

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