There is considerable overlap in approved oral health practice programmes of study, and most currently approved courses can lead to registration under more than one profession:
Of the eight programmes of study currently approved as leading to registration as a dental therapist, all eight are also approved for registration as an oral health therapist, and seven are also approved for registration as a dental hygienist.
Of the ten currently approved programmes of study which lead to registration as a dental hygienist, only three courses lead exclusively to registration as a dental hygienist, with the remaining seven allowing a graduate to register as an oral health therapist or a dental therapist.
Because of this overlap, and because there is no information available to show which profession graduates of each course elect to register as, information on the number of oral health therapist graduates is not presented.
As noted above, oral health therapist is not a recognised occupation in ANZSCO, and therefore overseas-trained oral health therapists wishing to migrate to Australia must apply as either a dental hygienist or a dental therapist.
Migration data is therefore not presented for oral health therapists.
What is a dental hygienist?
Dental hygienists provide oral health assessment, diagnosis, treatment, management, and education for the prevention of oral disease to promote healthy oral behaviours for patients of all ages. Their scope may include periodontal/gum treatment, preventative services and other oral care. Dental hygienists may only work within a structured professional relationship with a dentist.47
How are dental hygienists trained?
To be eligible to gain registration with the DBA as a dental hygienist, a person must complete an approved programme of study. There are currently two approved two-year Advanced Diploma of Oral Health (Dental Hygiene) programmes (offered by RMIT and TAFE SA), and one three-year Bachelor of Oral Health (offered by the University of Newcastle), which lead to registration as a dental hygienist. There are also eight approved three-year bachelor degrees which can lead to registration as a dental hygienist, however practitioners who complete these degrees are also eligible to register as oral health therapists and undertake work in the dental therapist scope of practice as well as the dental hygienist scope of practice.48 All approved programmes incorporate a period of clinical practice, usually in public dental hospitals and university facilities.
What is the assessment process for overseas-trained dental hygienists?
Dental hygienists are included on the skilled occupation list and the consolidated sponsored occupation list. This means overseas-trained practitioners with qualifications in dental hygiene can migrate to Australia independently or through sponsored programmes including state and territory, regional and employer sponsored schemes. They are also eligible for temporary migration through the 457 Temporary Work (skilled) visa.
Skills and qualifications of overseas-trained dental hygienists are assessed for two purposes:
For visa grant purposes. This assessment is conducted by VETASSESS, with skills and qualifications assessed for equivalency to Australian standards.
For registration purposes. To be able to register with the DBA and practise in Australia, the ADC conduct a process which includes an assessment of documents, an English language test (dependent on country of origin), and written and clinical examinations. Only dental hygienists who hold qualifications obtained after at least two years’ full-time study and who held registration or licensure in their country of training or country of residence are able to apply for the ADC assessment. The exception to this is those dental hygienists who are registered to practise in New Zealand – they are eligible to apply for general registration without having completed the ADC assessment (under trans-Tasman mutual recognition).
What issues have stakeholders identified for the dental hygienist workforce?
Stakeholders raised the following issues in relation to the dental hygiene workforce:
There is a lack of knowledge about dental hygiene as a profession at a high school level, potentially affecting the number of people attracted to dental hygiene as an occupation.
Existing workforce position
The existing workforce position was determined from expert opinion from jurisdictions and the profession. A traffic light approach was used (as described in Appendix D). The dental hygienist existing workforce position was assessed as orange – some level of expressed demand exceeding available workforce.
In 2012, there were 1,362 practicing dental hygienists who reported their primary role as being a clinician (Table ). In 2012, clinician dental hygienists were:
Almost exclusively female (only five per cent were male)
Worked less than 30 hours per week
Had an average age of 37.1 years, with very few aged 55 years or over.
Caution should be taken when comparing the 2011 and 2012 survey results for dental hygienists due to a change in survey methodology. In 2011, dual qualified dental hygienists and dental therapists were classified as oral health therapists. In the 2012 survey, practitioners holding dual qualifications were prompted to identify whether their main area of practice was as a dental hygienist, dental therapist, or oral health therapist, and have been classified accordingly. Future surveys will follow the 2012 methodology, allowing comparisons between 2012 and future years’ results to be made.