What to Expect…From a Decent Dental Hygienist
Most of us think that a quick brush once or twice a day, along with an occasional work-out with the old dental floss, will keep our teeth in tip-top condition. Good dentists, and dental hygienists, know better. If you want to keep your teeth for as long as possible, you need to keep them clean. And visit a hygienist regularly.
Good hygienists are not a dime a dozen, they are a rare breed who really care about teeth. Many people (mistakenly) assume they are just people who didn’t want to shell out all the time, energy and cash to finish dental school. Actually, becoming a dental hygienist requires finishing an accredited dental hygiene program of at least two years’ duration and pass several state and national exams. Some finish a four-year Bachelor’s of Science program in Dental Hygiene, which includes courses in oral anatomy and hygiene theory.
Teaching good dental hygiene is an art in itself, and doing it properly is not something to be sneezed at (especially not when your hygienist is looking in your mouth). Look for one who has RDH, or Registered dental Hygienist, after their name, as a stamp of quality and training. That means her or she (usually she) is a licensed oral health professional, and has the skills and background required to work on your smile.
Duties of a Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists do a lot more than teach little kids how to brush. While dentists diagnosis and treat problems of the teeth, it’s up to the hygienist to ensure they stay in good repair. After all, why pay thousands of dollars on dental work, only to let your pearly whites turn yellow and rot into little stumps? To make sure we keep our teeth in sparkling condition, hygienists can:
Examine both teeth and gums. Also take x-rays and make an assessment of the gums (periodontal)
Keep record of any diseases, abnormalities etc. The diagnosis of any condition normally must be done by the dentist
Clean teeth, removing both hard and soft deposits of plaque, calculus (tartar) etc
Apply agents that will help to act as a sealant and/or prevent cavities and decay
Administer local anesthesia (in some states dental hygienists are also qualified to apply other types of anesthetics)
Teach the basics of good oral hygiene and how to prevent tooth decay and gum disease – oral health promotion as well as protection strategies. This can also include the introduction and maintenance of quit smoking programs, as well as the importance of good nutrition for strong teeth and gums
Remember that every individual state has its own licensing agreements concerning what a dental hygienist can do. He or she will work in tandem with the dentist, but the exact responsibilities are, at least partly, dependent on state regulation.
Dental hygienists, obviously, rely on a variety of tools to get the job done properly. Because most of the tools are small, hygienists must be adept at working with their hands. As technology advances so do the types of tools used, here are the basics:
Hand and rotary instruments. Used to clean teeth
Ultrasonic devices. Also used to clean, polish and remove stains
Teeth models. To show patients how to clean better, perform root canal therapy or apply certain cleaning agents and sealants
Anesthetic devices such as syringes etc. To apply local anesthesia
Dental Hygienist Overview
If the thought of sticking your hands into someone’ else’s decaying mouth makes you want to gag, think again. Government findings from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics say that dental hygiene is a growing profession, and is expected to grow a whopping 30 percent until 2016. In part, that’s because as older dentists who didn’t employ hygienists retire, younger dentists who do are taking their place.
The growth is also because dentists want to concentrate on other, perhaps more lucrative, procedures, allowing their hygienists to do more and more. Because of these procedures, however, more and more people are keeping their natural teeth longer, instead of relying on dentures. That also is contributing to the demand for proper dental maintenance and protection, making dental hygiene one of the fastest-growing professions.
Don’t confuse a dental hygienist with a dental assistant, however, as only the former is licensed to carry out the specific clinical tasks mentioned above. Dental assistants concentrate more on preparing instruments for use, performing lab duties (in some cases) and doing some basic-hands-on work, as instructed by the dentist. They can only work under close supervision, and get paid less than hygienists on the whole.
So next time you visit a dentist – or a hygienist – take the time to appreciate the varied training that each specialty involves. In particular, pay attention to what the hygienist tells you, and start brushing properly and flossing regularly and following the hygienist’s instructions to the letter. You only have one set of natural teeth – try to keep them for as long as you can.