Education and Training Requirements
In high school, take as many health, science (especially biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology), and mathematics classes as possible to build your knowledge in these areas and prepare for college. Other useful courses include computer science, English, speech, foreign language, and psychology.
You will need at least a bachelor’s degree in dental therapy to work as a dental therapist. Those who earn master’s degrees in the field are sometimes known as advanced dental therapists. Having this academic credential sometimes allows therapists in certain states to provide more complex services to patients. In some programs (such as the one offered by the University of Minnesota), students learn alongside both dental and dental hygiene students in order to obtain a wide range of training and hands-on experience.
Students receive instruction in a variety of areas, including patient assessment, dental public health, oral anatomy and head and neck anatomy, cariology and periodontology, oral radiology, biomaterials, pharmacology, local anesthesia and pain control, orthodontics and pediatric dentistry, geriatric dentistry, and dental care for patients with special needs. They also participate in internships at dental providers to obtain hands-on experience.
The Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits dental therapy programs. Visit https://www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program for a list of programs.
Certificate programs in dental assisting and related fields are provided by colleges and universities. Enrolling in such a program will provide you with a general introduction to the field of dental care and may help you to gauge whether a career in dental science is a good fit for your interests and skill set. Contact schools in your area to learn about available programs.
Other Education or Training
All dental professionals must continue to learn throughout their careers about emerging treatments, new dental products, and regulations by taking continuing education courses. These may be offered at large dental society meetings, by colleges and universities, or by dental associations such as the American Dental Hygienists' Association, American Dental Association, and dental organizations at the state and local levels.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
No certification is available for dental therapists. The states of Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington provide licensing that allows therapists to practice.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Students should obtain as much experience in the field as possible by participating in internships and part-time jobs at a dental office or other organization that employs dental therapists.
Successful dental therapists are organized, detail-oriented, good time managers, empathetic, and committed to providing dental care to underserved populations. Many people are unaware of this career, so dental therapists also must have strong communication and advocacy skills in order to explain what services they can provide and their role in the dental care field.