Dental hygienists perform various duties throughout the day. From cleaning patient’s teeth to instructing proper brushing, floss, and other oral care methods, hygienists interact with patients very closely. Qualities that help hygienists succeed include attention to detail, compassion, ability to interact with a variety of people, and quality education and training to complete daily tasks with or without a dentist’s supervision.
Teeth and Gum Exam
Even though dentists perform their own teeth and gum exam, dental hygienists may perform a cursory exam to determine any immediate issues. Hygienists will make note of any issues in the patient’s medical file to help the dentist make good decisions regarding patient care.
Teeth Cleaning and Polishing
Teeth cleaning remains one of the main duties of dental hygienists in most dental offices. Removing tartar and plaque, surface stains, and completing a full check-up that includes checking specifically for cavities, sore gums, and a general exam of the mouth and tongue. Dental hygienists also provide instruction on tooth brushing, flossing, and may recommend products to make accomplishing these tasks easier.
Finally, a hygienist may apply polish to teeth to improve overall shine and appearance. All this work is typically completed without assistance from the dentist. Once completed, dentists will visit patients and perform their own exams, review x-rays, and consult with patients if further appointments will be necessary to correct any issues.
Tools used to clean and polish teeth include ultrasonic or power equipment, water picks, polishing brushes, or their hands. Dental floss or dental picks allow hygienists to perform a deep cleaning on teeth and gums.
Fluoride Treatments and Sealants
Dental hygienists typically apply fluoride treatments and sealant on patients after cleaning teeth. These treatments help slow the effects of decay and help strengthen teeth for a period of time.
Most dental patients must undergo x-ray screening (typically once a year) to determine if cavities or other dental problems under the gums exist. Dental hygienists prepare patients for x-rays and then use X-ray machines to take images. Hygienists position their patient’s face and mouth in ways that best capture certain angles. From these x-rays, dentists can tell if cavities exist, find loose teeth, or determine where specific jaw pain comes from.
Patient Care and Treatment Plans
In addition to performing teeth cleaning and polishing, applying fluoride and sealant treatments, and taking x-rays, many hygienists maintain patient care and treatment plans which document current dental health, steps recommended to improve health, and the patient’s progress visit to visit.
These plans, detailed in nature, should provide an accurate overview of dental work performed and how well patients take care of their teeth and gums.
Upon reviewing a patient’s care plan, hygienists may suggest changes diet or offer other nutritional advice that can help ensure good oral health.
Education Requirements for Dental Hygienists
To perform all the duties mentioned above, most hygienists need to complete at least two years of training from an accredited dental hygienist program to qualify for a license. Coursework includes anatomy, nutrition, radiography, periodontology, and physiology. Educational requirements vary by state.