Sarah Murray MBE - Celebrating 30 Years as a Dental Therapist

"This year is an important one for me: in July, 30 years ago, I became a dental therapist, proudly adding to my dental hygienist qualification from earlier that year.

And what a 30-years they have been, with more to come…but maybe not another 30 years, as my hands may be a bit wrinkly and arthritic by then!

The profession has changed hugely from when I qualified in 1990. At that time, dental therapists were not permitted to work in general dental practice. It was also a legal requirement that a dentist was on the premises when administering LIA however, then I could choose my LA agent whereas now I need it prescribed! Treatment plans were generally verbal and often the treatment plans would indicate the type of cavity and material to be used.

Today, according to the statistics, dental caries has reduced, although one would question this when there is still a high number of children being referred for GA on a daily basis: dental caries remains the number one reason for child hospital admissions! People are also living longer today and retaining their teeth, but there is still periodontal disease to satisfy us all! Many individuals are also now diversifying their careers with the inclusion of tooth whitening and facial aesthetics.

However, some things sadly remain the same. Many dentists are still not utilising us to our full potential and this is likely to be the case for a while now that we are in post-Covid-19 times. I truly believe that dentists need to make the most use of dental hygienists and dental therapists, and enable us to ‘only do what only you can do’. They need to utilise the best person for the intervention for example, delegating to dental nurses trained in oral health education and promotion to provide tobacco cessation. Another example would be to refer to dental therapists for restorative work, freeing up dentists to provide the more complex work that patients require. Every member of the team will then become fulfilled in their roles and patients would have greater access to dental services.

Through my university role, I teach team working to the undergraduate students. I am passionate about this and actively encourage them to engage with their colleagues. This helps ensure an awareness of the scopes of practice for all members of the team. Prior to finals exams, we discuss the intricacies of our roles, with a Q&A session that includes: the requirement of a prescription for LA; treatment planning; and whether we can administer or supply fluoride supplements and toothpaste. It is important that we continue to work towards dentists understanding our roles in the provision of dental treatment.

I grew up being involved in volunteering in the community, initially with Riding for the Disabled as a teenager; I had a love of horses and wanted to ‘help people’ and this may have been the driver for literally ‘falling’ into the dental profession. It is no surprise to many that I have been an active member of BSDHT since qualifying; I feel strongly that there is no point in complaining about things unless one is willing to get involved and try and make that change. I have held roles on the Publications Committee, at both regional and executive level and currently my role is the Honorary Secretary. This current 2-year post will conclude in November.

I feel I have played a part in making change to propel us to where we are today. I have worked closely with the GDC in putting forward a proposal for dental therapists to be able to undertake pulp therapy and extraction of primary teeth - I was part of the Direct Access Working Group, collating information and generating data collection, producing research to support the proposals that were proposed to the GDC by both BSDHT and BADT. I am proud of some of the changes that I have been involved in that includes the development of the BSDHT Benevolent Fund, which has proved to be a lifeline for some members this year. Other projects I am actively involved with is the Moveit4Smiles project with my partners in crime, Christina Chatfield, Elaine Tilling and Jolene Pinder. We strive to raise awareness of the increase in mouth cancer, due to the links with HPV, and the need for education around this, both to our patients and the profession.

I have had a fulfilling career and it is not over yet; I feel fortunate that I work in dental education with some great colleagues and engaged students, who graduate and achieve great things for themselves and our profession. Receiving my MBE from the Queen, which was supported by BSDHT, has been the pinnacle of my career to date.

My favourite saying is ‘make a meaningful difference in the lives of others’ and this is what I shall continue to strive for.


July 2020


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