What issues have stakeholders identified for the dental therapist workforce?
Issues raised in relation to dental therapist workforce were:
Most work in the public sector, reflecting their scope of practice (which is primarily providing oral health care for young people, and the provision of publicly funded oral health care services and dedicated school dental programmes provided by states and territories).
Some that start as a dental therapist switch over to dental hygiene over time.
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 therapist existing workforce position was assessed as orange – some level of expressed demand exceeding available workforce.
In 2012, there were 1,006 practicing dental therapists who reported their primary role as being a clinician (Table ). In 2012, clinician dental therapists were:
almost exclusively female (only 3 per cent were male)
worked part-time (on average working 29 hours per week)
had an average age of 46.2 years.
This average age is substantially higher than the average age of dental hygienists and oral health therapists in 2012, which were 37.1 years and 30.7 years respectively.
Caution should be taken when comparing the 2011 and 2012 survey results for dental therapists 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.
As highlighted in the ‘Oral health therapists – Graduates’ section, there is considerable overlap in approved oral health practice programmes of study, where most currently approved courses can lead to registration under more than one profession. 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 dental therapist graduates is not presented.
Table 41 and Table 42 present the number of permanent visa grants (where a person held no previous working visa) and 457 temporary work (skilled) visa grants to dental therapists from 2007 to 2012. Few visas were granted under either category across the period.
As noted earlier, this also potentially includes people who are trained as oral health therapists, who are assessed as either a dental hygienist or dental therapist for visa purposes (refer Oral health therapist – migration).