Dental therapists: evidence of technical competence

J Dent Res. 2013 Jul;92(7 Suppl):11S-5S. doi: 10.1177/0022034513484333. Epub 2013 May 20.


Dental therapists are members of the dental team in many countries, where they perform a limited number of irreversible restorative procedures. In the United States, they practice only in Alaska and Minnesota, though other states are considering adding them in an effort to improve access to care. While critics of this workforce model cite concern for patient safety, proponents argue that dental therapists provide treatment that is as technically competent as that provided by dentists. Though nearly 2 dozen studies from industrialized countries address this subject, this article systematically reviews all 23 of them. Of these reports, all but 2 conclude that dental therapists perform at an acceptable level. Every study that directly compared the work of dental therapists with that of dentists found that they performed at least as well. Regardless of whether dental therapists would be the most effective intervention for improving access to oral health care in the United States, the evidence clearly suggests dental therapists are clinically competent to safely perform the limited set of procedures that falls within their scope of practice.

Keywords: access to care; auxiliaries; mid-level provider; quality of care; restorative; review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Dental Auxiliaries / standards*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Health Care / standards
  • Standard of Care