The dentistry profession is not limited to dentists. Dentists have staff members that often spend more time with the patients than the dentist does. When you visit an oral care facility, who do you see working there? There are four main positions in the oral care profession other than dentists. These are dental assistants, oral hygienists, dental therapists, and dental technicians. The position of dental assistant requires the least amount of education, though each state's requirements for working in the industry are different. Dental assistants do exactly what their title suggests, assist dentists. Sterilization of equipment, laying out of tools, passing tools and suctioning during procedures, and taking x-rays are all part of the duties of dental assistants.
Licensing is required to be a dental hygienist. Licensed dental hygienists are also called oral hygienists. Dental hygienists are specialists in preventative oral care. They clean teeth and gums, taking x-rays, scaling and root planning necessary for periodontal disease patients, giving the patient fluoride, applying dental sealants, and educating patients in home care for the teeth and gums. Patients will typically spend the most time in the dental office with the oral hygienist. Oral hygienists follow a five-step process of care, including assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. The scope of what an oral hygienist is allowed to do is expanded or limited by the local or state governmental regulations.
Dental therapists are professionals that are trained in oral hygiene specific to children's teeth and gums. They often assist pediatric dentists with scaling, cleaning, taking x-rays, examining the child's teeth and gums, giving local anesthesia, applying sealants, restoring primary teeth, and doing pulpotomies. The exact duties which come under the scope of dental therapists are determined by regulations at the local and state levels. The dentist for whom the therapist works may also limit the scope of duties for the therapist.
A dental technician, or dental technologist, is a member of the dental profession that typically works with the dentist rather than the patient. Dental technicians follow the dentist's prescription when an oral appliance is necessary. Dental and restorative appliances are constructed by dental technologists. There are four main types of dental appliances under the expertise of dental technicians: fixed prosthesis, removable prosthesis, maxillofacial prosthesis, and orthodontics and auxiliaries. The appliances formed by dental technicians include crowns, bridges, implants, dentures, removable partial dentures, ocular prosthesis, maxillofacial prosthesis, orthodontic appliances, and mouth guards.