The OHT Experience Part 1 – Public Health

The end of the academic year is fast approaching, with job application and interview time soon to follow! After speaking with recent graduate dentists working across the different sectors in our post “Private/Public/Corporate Dentistry – The Recent Graduate Experience”, we thought it necessary to get the viewpoints of Oral Health Therapists (OHTs) across similar sectors.

Dental Head Start has been in touch with a spread of recently graduated Oral Health Therapists working across the public, private general, and private orthodontic sectors. Its been great to hear the differing experiences and discussion about the scope and experiences between the OHTs working across the different sectors. Many practicing dentists have little idea of the full scope of our OHT colleagues, and if the dentists don’t know, what hope does the general public have of understanding the role of the OHT! Continue below for (hopefully!) the answers to the majority of your questions about starting out as a newly graduated Oral Health Therapist in the public system.

Did you always want to work in the public dental system or did you find yourself falling into it by chance?

I have always wanted to work within both the public and private dental system.

What drew you to public dentistry?

It was always my plan to start my career within the public system to really consolidate my therapy and hygiene skills. What really drew me into the public system were the opportunities that the public system provides. These include driving/operating the Smiles4miles dental van to kindergartens, completing treatment under GA with the supervision of dentists, and participating in community Oral Health projects.

How did you find the whole process of finding a job?

Finding a job in the public sector was difficult as there are not many places that take new grad clinicians, most public dental clinics want clinicians with 3+ years of experience.

The interview process was very systematic and challenging. It required the standard ice breaker introduction followed by questions of team bonding, dealing with conflict, problem solving and personal qualities/strengths/weaknesses. As there was a high influx of applicants, to narrow down the numbers each applicant was given a trauma scenario which tested the individual’s problem solving skills, academic knowledge and ability to work under pressure. The interview process also helped ensure that the individual was able to cater and understand the needs of rural patients in the public setting.

I was pretty unsure whether I had got the job post interview as I knew I was up against many other applicants, but getting a tour of the clinic after the interview was a good indication I had acquired the position.

How do you find the mentorship in public?

Mentorship is excellent in the public system. We have weekly time slots blocked out specifically for new grad meetings. This allows for any questions or hard cases to be raised to a more experienced clinician one-on-one. You also get knowledge, tips and tricks that you only learn from years of experience. We also have “Teledentistry” where you are able to book in sessions with a specialist, to discuss cases and treatment options over Skype.

What are your regular working hours? Do you have enough/too many hours?

I work full time hours, 5 days a week – 8:30 to 5pm. Personally, I find these hours really comfortable.

How flexible is your work schedule for holidays/courses/sick leave?

Work is very flexible when it comes to taking leave. You always have a manager you can talk to if you need to take time off work. The public system is very fair and generous when it comes to annual leave, sick leave and study leave.

Do you practice more hygiene or therapy?

I practice more Therapy, it is about 90% therapy, 10% hygiene.

Do you think you are practicing to your full scope?

I think the public system really utilises the OHT’s full scope of practice. Not all Therapists have the same scope, but in the public system they ensure you work within yours. Anything that is beyond your scope is very easy to pass on to a different clinician.

What do you believe is a fair rate of pay for a first year OHT in the public system?

I think OHT’s are not getting paid enough in the public system. Especially as it varies between states, Victoria unfortunately pays the least for new grad OHTS. New grad OHT’s get paid less than some dental assistants.

Dental Head Start found the award wages of 1st year OHTs in the NSW public system to be $62,707/year. Generally speaking, Victorian public health pays the least while Tasmanian and Queensland public health pay the most.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Your new grad year is the year to learn as much as you can from those around you. Take your time, ask questions and observe others- you can never stop learning.

What is the best advice you can give?

You know what you have learnt. There are no short cuts as everything is technique sensitive. If you’re going to do a filling -do it right the first time. Be the clinician you have always wanted to be.

Stay tuned! Viewpoints from the remaining sectors will be covered in the coming weeks

David is a recent graduate dentist working in private practice in regional NSW, Australia. Read more at

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