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The association was established to provide an avenue for Dental Therapists from various states and territories of Australia to compare their similarities and differences in duties and employment opportunities and to offer advice and support to each other.The origin of Dental Therapy has been variously attributed to both Great Britain and New Zealand in the early years of the 20th Century. Within Australia Dental Therapy schools were established in Tasmania and South Australia in 1966 and 1967 respectively.

By Professor Julie Satur

The Development of the Profession

Dental therapists operate in a primary care role, carrying out low to medium technology oral health care and health promotion, referring patients to dentists (or other health care providers) for services which are beyond their skills. Their skills include examination, diagnosis and treatment planning, radiology, preparation of cavities and their restoration with amalgam, cements and plastic filling materials, pulp therapies and extractions of deciduous teeth, clinical preventive services such as prophylaxis and scaling, fissure sealants and fluoride therapies, diet counselling and oral health education and promotion. Up until July 2000, dental therapists in most states of Australia were limited to public sector employment with School Dental Services providing care to children and adolescents under the ‘general supervision of a dentist1’ and with the assistance of a dental nurse....

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The Development of Dental Therapy

In 1913, the then President of the New Zealand Dental Association, Dr Norman K Cox proposed a system of school clinics operated by the state and staffed by ‘oral hygienists’ to address the dental needs of children between the ages of 6 and 14 years. At the time the idea was considered too unorthodox but in 1920, at a special meeting of the New Zealand Dental Association, 16 members voted for the adoption of school dental nurses with 7 opposed to the proposal....

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The Development of Dental Therapy in Australia

As early as 1919, a Melbourne dentist advocated a state dental service which would primarily have educational and other preventive functions. He drew on the concept of the British system of ‘dental dressers’ for a new Victorian ‘oral hygienist’ who would provide much of the care under the supervision of a dentist (Robertson 1989). In 1923, in order to make recommendations to the Victorian Cabinet for the extension of dental treatment for children, the Acting Director of Education for the State of Victoria wrote to the Principal Dental Officer for New Zealand’s School Dental Service expressing interest in the scheme to train young women as dental assistants for work in schools. Clearly, concern for child oral health was significant, but the threat of the development of another layer of practitioner, when the university educated dentists were ‘…fending off the demands (for registration and practice) by recorded men, twilighters and (dental) mechanics…’ was too great for the establishing Victorian dentist profession (Robertson 1989)....

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Dental Therapists Practicing in Australia Today

The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme requires that information about every registered health practitioner in Australia is published on a single national register of practitioners. For the first time, it is possible to produce accurate reports on the number of practitioners registered in each profession in Australia...

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