From today (1 May 2013) there will no longer be a need to see a dentist before seeing a dental hygienist or dental therapist for your care, whether you are treated on the NHS or privately. These changes are intended to give consumers greater choice and will effectively remove the previous monopoly.

The changes have been driven by the Office of Fair Trading and implemented by the General Dental Council, and have the potential to radically alter the way that treatment is provided.

You may have been treated by a dental hygienist or dental therapist previously, but if you haven’t you can rest assured that they are highly skilled, qualified members of the dental team who can provide a range of care from a scale and polish to fillings and extractions.

Julie Rosse, President of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy, said: “We’re delighted that the General Dental Council has decided to remove the barrier in order to allow dental hygienists and dental therapists to see patients directly and to be able to plan the delivery of their oral care. This decision will improve patient access to dental care whilst ensuring that, as always, the patient remains central to everything we do.”

Dental hygienists focus on the gum or periodontal health of patients, whilst dental therapists concentrate on repairs to natural teeth. Dental hygienists are most commonly associated with having teeth scaled and polished, but their role is much more extensive. They are able to provide specialised treatment to help keep gums nice and healthy, give guidance on brushing and flossing, and advise on how to stop smoking. In addition, they can take x-rays and provide whitening treatment in conjunction with a dentist. Dental therapists are able to carry out fillings on both adults and children, as well as extractions on children.

This doesn’t mean that the dentist-led team environment is a thing of the past though, as many dental hygienists and therapists will choose to continue to work under the prescription of a dentist.

After many years of research and consideration the General Dental Council has concluded that allowing the public direct access to dental professionals such as dental hygienists and dental therapists will have a positive impact on the oral health of the nation.

Toothbrushes (PD)

Toothbrushes (PD)

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, said: “Direct access will ultimately improve our oral health as a nation and mean more people will get their mouths seen more regularly. This will be a particular benefit to patients who struggle with fear and anxiety or those who see the dentist chair as a last resort. By increasing your dental attendance you give yourself the best chance to prevent disease and reduce the amount of possible dental treatment needed in the future – which is cost effective in the long run.”

The dentist remains the overall custodian of the patient, and anything which is not within the remit of a dental hygienist or therapist will still be referred back to the dentist. But times are changing, and this can only be a good thing if, as predicted, this move will encourage those consumers who would normally have shied away from visiting the dentist, to now seek help and advice from other members of the dental team.

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