Dental therapists work closely with the dental healthcare team to provide dental care and routine treatment to patients

As a dental therapist you'll give advice on oral health to patients and will also provide periodontal treatments and carry out routine restorative work. You will have clinical and health promotion responsibilities within the dental healthcare team.

Dental therapists treat both adults and children and can work in a variety of settings, including the NHS, independent general practice, specialist periodontal or orthodontic practice, education, research and the community.

Many dental therapists are qualified as both therapists and dental hygienists. Dental hygienists typically focus on preventative dental health and treatment, such as helping you to keep your teeth and gums healthy. In addition to this, dental therapists carry out some dental procedures, such as restoring and extracting teeth, and pulp treatments.

Responsibilities

As a dental therapist, you'll provide both clinical and educational healthcare to patients. You'll need to:

  • communicate effectively with patients to obtain and evaluate their dental history and diagnose the condition
  • carry out clinical examinations
  • perform routine treatments such as carrying out simple fillings and replacing temporary fillings or crowns, undertaking root service debridement, treating periodontal disease and placing pre-formed crowns on deciduous teeth (also referred to as primary or milk teeth)
  • scale and polish teeth
  • treat and restore deciduous teeth known as pulp therapy
  • extract deciduous teeth
  • provide care of implants and treatment of peri-implant tissues
  • take dental impressions and dental radiographs
  • recognise, identify and interpret abnormalities and common pathology
  • remove plaque and other coatings
  • advise children and adults with special needs about their dental treatment
  • motivate and educate individuals or groups of people to care for their oral hygiene and eat a healthy diet
  • refer patients where necessary to other healthcare professionals
  • record accurately patients' dental history and dental treatment plan.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for dental therapists working in the NHS are between £30,401 and £37,267, which is Band 6 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates.
  • Experienced dental therapists working as clinicians can expect to earn between £37,570 and £43,772 (Band 7).   
  • Hourly rates vary from £19.00 as a newly qualified dental therapist employed by the NHS to £22.00. Hourly rates in private practice typically start at £26.00.

Salaries vary depending on a range of factors, including your experience, location, type of employer (i.e. private or NHS) and whether you're employed or self-employed.

Income data from NHS Agenda for Change. Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Working hours

If employed full time, you'll usually work 37.5 hours per week, 8:30am to 5:00pm. You may sometimes have to work evenings or weekends, depending on your employer.

If you're working in a hospital, you may have to be on call during weekends, or work on shifts.

If you're working for a community dental service, you'll usually travel between patients and health centres. Flexibility is required.

Part-time work is possible, for example when working in private practice.

What to expect

  • You'll work as part of the dental healthcare team, including dentists, dental nurses, dental technicians and dental hygienists.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK. With experience, you could choose to set up your own practice.
  • You're required to wear protective clothing such as safety glasses, a face mask and gloves to protect yourself and patients from infectious diseases.
  • Eye strain, neck and back fatigue can be an issue due to the repetitive nature of some of the work.
  • You won't normally have to travel during the day. However, if you're working for a community dental service, you'll usually travel between patients and health centres. There are some opportunities for experienced dental therapists to work overseas.

Qualifications

To work as a dental therapist, you'll need to be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). In order to do this, you must successfully complete a GDC-approved diploma or degree training course. Many of the training schools offer combined courses that qualify you to work both as a dental therapist and/or dental hygienist.

Courses are full time and applications are made via UCAS. You'll typically need two or three A-levels, one of which should be in biology or human biology. Applicants who have completed a nationally recognised dental nursing qualification and have two A-levels (including one in biology) may also be considered by some universities.

Some institutions welcome graduates with a minimum 2:2 or above in a science or healthcare subject. Entry criteria vary between courses so check with individual course providers for exact requirements, as well as for information on fees and funding opportunities.

In addition, you'll need to demonstrate your awareness of the profession. This can be through either work experience in a dental or healthcare setting or experience work shadowing a dental therapist.

You'll also need to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check before admission to a training programme in England and Wales (or equivalent check for Scotland and Northern Ireland). For some courses you'll also have to undergo a health check carried out by the university's occupational health service. When applying for GDC registration, you must declare any issues that may affect your fitness to practise.

See the GDC website for a list of approved courses.

Skills

As a dental therapist you'll need to have:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills to interact with patients in a calm and reassuring manner and to advise them on how to look after their teeth and gums
  • effective listening and good motivational skills to educate patients to maintain healthy oral hygiene and a healthy diet
  • excellent manual dexterity and confidence in handling dental tools and equipment
  • the ability to work well in a team as well as independently
  • an interest in helping and advising people to look after their teeth and gums
  • good eyesight and steady hands for carrying out precision work
  • the ability to concentrate for long periods of time
  • attention to detail
  • basic knowledge of IT, and the ability to write accurately and keep safe records of patients
  • thinking and reasoning skills
  • sensitivity, compassion and a patient-centred approach to care
  • a friendly, confident and professional manner when interacting with patients and colleagues.

Work experience

To get a place on a training course, you're expected to have some awareness of the profession and be able to demonstrate an interest in helping people. You can achieve this by work shadowing a dental therapist in your local dental practice or by getting involved in voluntary healthcare work in, for example, care homes or hospices.

Experience as a dental nurse may also be useful prior to applying to qualify as a dental therapist.

Courses include a mix of academic study and clinical work, so you'll build up practical work experience in both hospital and community practice for when you graduate and start looking for a job.

Employers

Dental therapists are employed by:

  • general dental practices - the number of full and part-time dental therapists employed in general dental practices providing NHS or private treatment to patients is growing as the need to provide oral healthcare and treatment to younger and older patients has increased
  • dental hospitals - you can start your first job as a dental therapist in the NHS or in a private hospital, helping orthodontists during complex treatments and surgery
  • community dental practices, including schools and care homes - working in a clinical or educational role to ensure that everyone has access to dental care
  • specialist periodontal or orthodontic practices
  • education/research establishments - conducting research and delivering teaching at a dental hospital
  • defence dental services - at locations in the UK or overseas with the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

After gaining some experience you could set up and manage your own private independent practice.

There are also some opportunities for experienced dental therapists to work overseas.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as DentalElite and Zest Dental Recruitment also advertise full and part-time vacancies.

Professional development

Once qualified, you can apply for the Dental Therapists Foundation Training (DTFT) scheme. This programme is aimed at newly qualified dental therapists making the transition into the workplace and provides an opportunity to receive tailored clinical and educational support to further develop your skills, confidence and competence.

You'll need to continue developing your skills and keeping your knowledge up to date throughout your career. Undertaking continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential part of maintaining your registration with the GDC and you'll have to spend at least 75 hours over a five-year period engaged in CPD activities relevant to your practice.

CPD activities such as attending conferences and other training events are an excellent opportunity for you to network and share best practice, while also gaining CPD points. Find out more about maintaining your GDC registration through professional development at GDC - CPD for dental professionals.

There are also opportunities to develop specialist skills that will allow you to carry out additional responsibilities such as:

  • whitening
  • inhalation sedation
  • removing sutures from a wound.

It's possible to pursue further study at Diploma, Masters and doctorate level if you're interested in developing your expertise in a specialist field of dental healthcare, such as orthodontic therapy.

Search for postgraduate dental courses

Career prospects

There are opportunities within dental therapy for you to develop your interests and career further. For example, with several years' experience as a dental therapist, you could progress into a dental practice manager role. There are also opportunities to set up your own/independent dental practice.

If your interests lie in teaching and research, it's possible to take further training to move into a dental hospital/school to work as a lecturer, researcher or tutor.

It may also be possible for you to qualify as a dentist by undertaking an additional degree in dentistry. Some universities offer a four or five-year graduate entry route and accept students who have graduated with a 2:1 or above from a course with a significant element of biology or chemistry. Check entry criteria with individual course providers.   

Other related areas you could move into with additional training include orthodontic therapy, public health or work as a health promotion specialist.