This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Dental therapists provide children and adolescents with routine dental care. They may refer clients to dentists for more specialised dental treatment.
Dental therapists with one to four years’ experience usually earn
$41K-$62K per year
Dental therapists with more than five years’ experience, and extra responsibilities, usually earn
$58K-$95K per year
Source: DHB/PSA Collective Agreement, and Emigrate New Zealand.
Pay for dental therapists employed by district health boards varies depending on experience.
- New graduates usually earn between $41,000 and $46,000 a year.
- Dental therapists with two to four years' experience usually earn between $47,000 and $62,000.
- Those with more than five years' experience, and extra responsibilities, usually earn between $58,000 and $95,000.
Pay for dental therapists in private practice varies depending on experience, and where they work. They usually work on contract, and may earn between $30 and $60 an hour.
Sources: District Health Boards/PSA 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) expires 30 April 2015'; Emigrate New Zealand.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Dental therapists may do some or all of the following:
- examine the oral condition of the mouth and teeth, and prepare a treatment plan
- restore teeth and do routine dental treatment and prevention work, such as applying prevention coating to teeth
- extract first teeth with a local anaesthetic
- advise patients on how to keep teeth and gums clean and prevent oral diseases
- promote oral health and hygiene in the community
- keep records of treatment
- refer people who require specialist dental treatment to a dentist or dental specialist and discuss their treatment with them
- take x-rays of mouths.
Skills and knowledge
Dental therapists need to have knowledge of:
- how to assess and diagnose dental problems
- the structure and functions of the teeth, jaw and mouth
- injuries and diseases of the mouth
- human health and development
- oral health care methods
- hygiene and sterilisation procedures.
- usually work regular business hours. If working in schools, they mainly work during term time, but may sometimes have to work during school holidays
- work at dental clinics in schools, in mobile dental therapy units, or in hospital and iwi-based dental clinics.
What's the job really like?
Amber Davies - Dental Therapist
For Amber Davies, one of the most fulfilling things about dental therapy is the opportunity to learn new things. "There are always new dental materials to learn about, and I have to do 20 hours of personal development a year to maintain my Annual Practising Certificate,” she says.
Working with children is enjoyable and varied
Amber enjoys being able to show young people that dental therapy is a relatively pain-free process. "Most kids don't have the same fear as adults about going to the dentist."
"And the work is really varied. On any one day I could be doing a filling, an extraction, an examination, or dental health counselling. I also talk with the children and their caregivers about when and how to brush their teeth, and their diet."
Calmness, patience and perseverance are critical
"Seeing some children's teeth in bad condition is a downside to the work, especially when you've counselled the parents and then you see the child again, or the next in line with the same problems. However, you have to keep persevering.
"It's a good career if you're the sort of person who is reassuring, patient and calm – because you are dealing with children and pre-schoolers who have a mind of their own!"
- Building confidence in nervous children.
- Mainly working during the school term, and having holidays off.
- Providing a lot of the basic care that dentists do but without the same status or pay.
- Sometimes having to work with dated equipment.
Dylan talks about what it's like to be a dental therapist - 1.17mins (Video courtesy of HealthcareersNZ).
Some children can be quite scared when they come to see him, he says, and if you can actually get a look in their mouth and end up doing a good job, like doing a good filling, that is really satisfying.
You have to be an outgoing person, Dylan says, not just someone who sits there and doesn't like talking.
There is a need for people in this profession, particularly Maori and Pacific Islander, he says.
To become a dental therapist you need one of the following:
- Bachelor of Oral Health from the University of Otago
- Bachelor of Health Science in Oral Health from Auckland University of Technology.
You also need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand.
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Oral Health
- Auckland University of Technology website - information about the Bachelor of Health Science
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter dental therapy training. A minimum of NCEA Level 2 or 3 in biology and English is required, depending on which university you apply to. Other useful subjects include chemistry and physical education.
Dental therapists need to be:
- patient and calm
- friendly and confident
- able to work well in a team
- good at problem-solving and decision-making
- good at communicating
- good at working with children.
Experience as a dental assistant or dental technician is useful for dental therapists.
Dental therapists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) and good hand-eye co-ordination.
Dental therapists need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association
- (04)473 9547 - email@example.com - www.nzoral.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Range of factors contribute to good demand for dental therapists
Good demand for dental therapists is due to:
- the ageing workforce, with nearly 40% of dental therapists aged over 50
- too few people studying to become dental therapists
- dental therapists commonly moving into other roles, such as dental hygienists.
Most dental therapists work in school and community dental services
Most dental therapists are employed by district health boards to work in school and community dental services.
A small number work in private practice, either contracting out their services to a dentist or working as an employee in a private dental therapy practice.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Immediate Skill Shortage List', accessed October 2014, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Health, Health of the Health Workforce 2013 to 2014', accessed March 2015, (www.health.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Dental and Oral Health Therapists' Association, Careers New Zealand interview, December 2014.
- Statistics New Zealand, ‘Census of Population and Dwellings 2013’, accessed October 2014 (www.stats.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Dental therapists may progress to work as:
- managers in school and community dental services
- lecturers on dental courses at the University of Otago or Auckland University of Technology.
Last updated 22 August 2017