Meet the oral health team

All the members of the dental team contribute to the well being of your oral health. But what is the difference between their titles and responsibilities? 

General practitioner dentist
Your dentist is the most co-ordinating and central member of the dental team and is the first person to examine your mouth including teeth, gums, tongue and the associated soft tissues. Your dentist is able to diagnose cavities and possible problem areas such as gum disease, crooked teeth, cancer of the mouth and other medical conditions, which may present with oral symptoms.

Dentists are able to fill and repair most teeth damaged by decay, replace missing teeth and treat gum disorders. In order to aid diagnosis, your dentist may have to rely on various diagnostic procedures, such as X-rays or models of your mouth. By treating early signs of disease they are able to prevent the further development of problems.

The receptionist is usually the first person with whom you have contact in the dental office. Her/his duties include the answering of the telephone and making of the appointments. The receptionist administers the office and ensures that you are welcome in reception and that waiting room areas are neat and pleasant.

Dental assistant
The dental assistant works closely with the dentist. His/her involvement in your treatment starts with setting you comfortably into the dental chair, assisting the dentist by preparing the correct equipment and mixing the appropriate materials needed for a particular procedure. As a specially trained person he/she is able to explain various procedures to you and also ensure that the operatory and instruments are kept clean and sterile.

Oral hygienist
The oral hygienist works very closely with the dentist by providing education on oral health care. She/he will advise on how and when regular brushing and flossing of the teeth and gums should take place. Being university trained she/he can advise on the importance of diet in the prevention of tooth decay and the use of fluorides. She/he will clean and polish teeth in an attempt to improve and maintain the health of your mouth by the removal of dental plaque. As part of your preventative programme, the oral hygienist may apply fluoride and fissure sealants where necessary.

Dental therapist
The dental therapist may work in private practice or for a dentist and provides certain dental services at a more competitive cost to the patient. The dental therapist can provide all the functions of an oral hygienist plus fillings and uncomplicated extractions. Should a problem arise with any of these procedures or should more advance treatment be required, the dental therapist will refer you back to the dentist for management.

Dental technician
The dental technician is a highly skilled and qualified person with at least four years' training in a laboratory. The dental technician makes crowns, bridges, inlays, dentures and orthodontic appliances as prescribed by the dentist or specialist. In all instances these items are returned to the dentist or dental specialist for professional fitting.

Source: The South African Dental Association

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