Oral Health Therapist
Oral health therapists provide dental care, treat gum disease and teach people how to care for teeth and gums. They may refer clients to dentists.
Oral health therapists usually earn
$59K-$83K per year
Senior oral health therapists can earn
$87K-$119K per year
Source: Te Whatu Ora, 2023
Pay for oral health therapists varies depending on experience, location, and whether they work full time or part time.
Oral health therapists working for Te Whatu Ora Health NZ (former DHBs)
- Qualified oral health therapists usually earn $59,000 to $83,000 a year.
- Senior oral health therapists who supervise staff can earn $87,000 to $119,000.
Oral health therapists who work on contract to one or more dentists, are paid an hourly rate.
Sources: Auckland Region District Health Boards/ PSA, 'Allied, Public Health, Scientific & Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement, Expires 30 June 2023'; and 'Rest of New Zealand 'Allied, Public Health, Scientific and Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement, expires 30 June 2023.'
- Te Whatu Ora website - Auckland Region Allied, Public Health, Scientific and Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement (PDF - 1.46MB)
- Te Whatu Ora website - Rest of New Zealand 'Allied, Public Health, Scientific and Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement (PDF - 1.88MB)
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Oral health therapists work with clinical guidance from a dentist or periodontist (a dentist who specialises in treating gum disease). Oral health therapists may do some or all of the following:
- examine mouths, teeth, gums and jaw and prepare a treatment plan
- take and develop x-rays (if they are registered to do so)
- extract first teeth with local anaesthetic
- treat periodontal disease (gum disease) and educate patients on how to improve and maintain their oral health
- make and maintain mouthguards for sport, and stents (small plastic trays) for home bleaching, and whiten teeth
- keep records of treatment
- teach and/or carry out dental research
- refer patients to dentists or dental specialists.
Skills and knowledge
Oral health therapists need to have knowledge of:
- the structure and function of the teeth, jaw and mouth
- human health and development
- how to diagnose and treat oral health problems such as gum disease
- a range of oral health care procedures, including hygiene and sterilisation.
Oral health therapists:
- may work full or part-time
- usually work in school dental clinics or mobile units, or at a dental practice
- may work in hospitals, iwi-based dental clinics, and nursing homes.
To become an oral health therapist you need one of the following:
- Bachelor of Oral Health from Otago University
- Bachelor of Health Science in Oral Health from Auckland University of Technology.
You also need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand, and must hold an Annual Practising Certificate.
- University of Otago website - Bachelor of Oral Health
- Auckland University of Technology website - Bachelor of Health Science
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include biology, chemistry, physics, maths and health education.
Oral health therapists need to be:
- encouraging and willing to listen
- caring and sensitive to patients who are in pain or distress
- aware of the needs of people from other cultures and backgrounds
- able to explain complex information to patients
- skilled at organising, making decisions, and solving problems.
Useful experience for oral health therapists includes:
- dental receptionist work
- dental assistant work.
Oral health therapists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Oral health therapists need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand and have a current Annual Practising Certificate.
Find out more about training
- Dental Council of New Zealand
- (04) 499 4820 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.dentalcouncil.org.nz
- New Zealand Oral Health Association
- email@example.com - www.nzoha.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Oral health therapist opportunities growing as more people require dental care
Demand for oral health therapists is growing because:
- more people are becoming aware of the importance of preventive dental care
- the ageing population and a rise in cases of obesity and diabetes mean more people need dental care
- the dental therapist and hygienist workforce (which makes up part of the oral health therapist workforce) is ageing.
Oral health therapist appears on Immigration New Zealand's Green List. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled oral health therapists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
According to the Census, 1,116 oral health therapists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Oral health therapists work for other dental professionals or have their own practice
Most oral health therapists work for:
- school and community dental services.
- dentists who do general dental work
- dental specialists such as periodontists (who prevent, diagnose and treat gum disease) or orthodontists (who prevent, diagnose and treat misalignments of the teeth and jaw).
Some also set up their own private practices, and may contract out their services to a dentist.
- Carrington, S, vice president, New Zealand Dental Hygienists' Association (NZDHA), Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, October 2017.
- Dental Council of New Zealand, 'Annual Report 2017', accessed January 2018, (www.dentalcouncil.org.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, Green List, April 2023, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Oral health therapists may progress to set up their own practices, become managers in school and community dental services, or work as academics at the University of Otago or Auckland University of Technology.
They may also work in practices that specialise in:
- prosthodontics, preventing and treating gum disease in people with dental prostheses (crowns and bridges)
- orthodontics, preventing and treating gum disease in children and young people with braces
- periodontics, treating people who have periodontal (gum) disease.
Last updated 21 August 2023