The role of the dental hygienist and oral health therapist
Dental hygienists and oral health therapists are professional, highly-trained dental practitioners who focus on disease prevention and oral health promotion and maintenance, through clinical intervention and education.
As registered dental practitioners, dental hygienists and oral health therapists are required to:
- Abide by the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law;
- Register with the Dental Board of Australia;
- Maintain their education and skills by completing 60 hours of continuing professional development in three year cycles;
- Be covered by professional indemnity insurance.
The Professional Expertise of a Dental Hygienist and Oral Health Therapist
Dental hygienists are professional highly-trained dental practitioners who focus on preventive oral health, focusing on techniques that ensure oral tissues and teeth are maintained and remain healthy in order to prevent dental disease, especially common chronic diseases such as dental caries, gingivitis and active periodontitis. Some dental hygienists are also known as oral health therapists, which recognises their additional training in in other aspects of dentistry such as some diagnostic and restorative dental therapy.
Dental hygienists and oral health therapists focus on disease prevention, through clinical intervention and education. This is fundamental to the management of oral health. The provision of dental health education, including dietary advice and smoking cessation, and clinic procedures such as root debridement also assists patients to manage existing conditions such as periodontal disease, cardiovascular disease, oral cancers, diabetes and respiratory disease (in aged care facilities). Dental hygienists are the primary preventive oral health providers and are the acknowledged experts in the field of dental disease prevention by our dental professional and health service provider colleagues.
The skills, knowledge and training of dental hygienists and oral health therapists is extensive. Training includes health sciences, human biology, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pathology, oral medicine, dental medicine, pharmacology, dental materials, periodontics, risk factors, aetiology of disease, cardiology, orthodontics, geriatric dentistry, special needs dentistry, oral health promotion and education, dental public health, preventive dentistry, community dentistry, minimal intervention, dental radiography, temporary restorations, local anaesthesia and clinical practice, including examinations, diagnosis and treatment planning and delivery within scope of practice.
The National Law requires the same level of professional responsibility from dental hygienists and oral health therapists as it does from dentists, dental specialists and dental prosthetists in that all practitioners must be registered with AHPRA, and have their own professional indemnity insurance and radiation licences. They are also required to complete 60 hours of mandatory continuing education in a three year cycle.
Our objective is the effective delivery of quality oral health services, improving oral health and therefore also general health. Dental hygienists and oral health therapists are employed throughout Australia as academics and educators by tertiary and vocational education providers to develop, deliver and evaluate programs which educate future providers of public and private oral health services. They have a critical role in maintaining standards which deliver the highest possible care to all population groups and in developing education strategies that align with the optimum provision of oral health care within an array of policy frameworks in States and Territories of Australia.
Find your nearest oral hygiene professional
You can search for you local dental hygienist, or oral health therapist, on our Find a Hygienist directory.