The latest on dental therapists

a patient visits a dental therapist


Your patients are likely familiar with the other teammates at your dental office aside from the dentist, including the dental hygienist, dental assistant and office manager. But do they know about dental therapists?

Learn more about how this relatively new role in the dental industry is growing across America.  

Crash course: What is a dental therapist?

Despite the name, a dental therapist is not a counselor in the way a mental health professional is. Rather, they are more akin to a physician’s assistant: a licensed utility player who can provide a range of preventative and restorative care, including:

  • Cavity fillings
  • X-rays
  • Making mouthguards
  • Polishing teeth
  • Replacing crowns
  • Extractions
  • Dental prosthetic repair
  • Providing oral health advice

Because their training allows them to work under the general supervision of a dentist, dental therapists have been deployed in places such as schools, nursing homes and rural communities. 

Where dental therapists can practice

The first dental therapists were introduced by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in 2004. Since then, 13 states have authorized dental therapy in some or all settings: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. In addition, over a dozen other states and Tribal governments are in the learning stages of authorizing dental therapists.  

The road ahead

At this time, there are only five dental therapist programs in the country: three in Minnesota, one in Alaska and one in Washington. But there has been recent support in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for dental therapists for fiscal year 2023, which could grow the number of dental therapist programs and expand the oral health workforce.


The bottom line: Dental therapists are on the rise in the United States and could see continued growth in the coming years thanks to recent support.