Oral Health Therapist Kaiakuaku Waha

Oral health therapists provide dental care to patients, which includes treating gum disease and teaching people how to care for their teeth and gums. They may refer clients to dentists for more specialised dental treatment.

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Oral health therapists need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand and have a current Annual Practising Certificate. 

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 the patient's mouth, 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 a local anaesthetic
  • recognise and treat periodontal disease (gum disease)
  • educate patients on how to improve and maintain their oral health
  • make mouthguards for sport, and stents (small plastic trays) for home bleaching
  • whiten teeth
  • maintain orthodontic appliances for patients
  • keep records of treatment
  • teach and/or carry out dental research
  • refer patients to dentists or dental specialists.

Physical Requirements

Oral health therapists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).

Useful Experience

Useful experience for oral health therapists includes:

  • dental receptionist work
  • dental assistant work.

Personal Qualities

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.


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 hours for one or more dental practices
  • usually work in a team situation at a general dental practice in their own treatment room, or in school dental clinics or mobile units
  • may also work in places such as hospitals, iwi-based dental clinics, and nursing homes.

Oral Health Therapists can earn around $35-$45 per hour.

Pay for oral health therapists varies depending on experience, location, and whether they work full time or part time. Most work on contract to one or more dentists, and are paid an hourly rate.

  • New oral health therapists earn about $35 an hour.
  • Those with two to three years' experience can earn up to $45.
  • Senior oral health therapists with more than five years' experience, or who supervise others, may earn up to $60.

Oral health therapists in Auckland tend to earn more than those in other parts of New Zealand.

Source: New Zealand Dental Hygienists' Association, 2018. 

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.

Years Of Training

3 years of training required.

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.

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.

Oral Health Therapist