Nearly everyone who visits the dentist’s office for a checkup should be familiar with the role of the registered dental hygienist (RDH). The dental hygienist is a gatekeeper for oral health. A hygienist performs the cleaning of your teeth, investigates the trouble spots that could become cavities and reviews your medical history and your dietary habits. Hygienists are passionate about oral health because they know your oral health is important to your overall health.
In this column, we will address how important the dental hygienist is within the dental and general health community.
The American Dental Hygienist Association (ADHA) defines dental hygienists as “licensed oral health professionals who focus on preventing and treating oral diseases – both to protect teeth and gums and to protect patients’ total health”. In The Bahamas, a hygienist association exists with approximately 60 members.
Dental hygienists are licensed by the state or country in which they serve. They graduate from a dental hygiene program in a college or university as well as passing a written national board examination and/or state clinical examination.
As licensed professionals, dental hygienists perform most of their work inter-dependently. This means although they are capable of working unsupervised, patients benefit from the oversight and supervision of a dentist under most conditions.
Above all, a dental hygienist’s mission is to advise patients on how to keep their teeth free of plaque, the sticky coating that constantly forms on your teeth.
During a typical dental visit, dental hygienists perform a range of services:
• Perform oral healthcare exams and screenings that include the review of patients’ health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening and evaluation of gum disease health.
• Expose, and in some regions, interpret dental radiographs (x-rays).
• Remove plaque and tartar from above and below the gumline using dental instruments.
• Apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth.
• Educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
• Coach patients about plaque control and developing individualized at-home oral hygiene programs.
• Counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health.
In some dental practices, a dental hygienist may perform teeth whitening as prescribed by the supervising dentist.
Dental hygienists reduce the burden of the dentist, essentially freeing them to perform more advanced procedures. The dental hygienist focuses on general, everyday cleanings that do not vary much from patient to patient; while the complicated, individualized procedures like cavity fillings, crowns and gum surgery fall under the dentist’s purview.
When visiting the dental hygienist for routine cleaning, patients should be honest about at-home dental care, eating and drinking habits. This advice is essential to having a productive appointment and maintaining healthy teeth. The dental hygienist would review a patient’s health history, take your blood pressure and discuss any concerns about your teeth and gums. Additionally, the hygienist would use a probe to take measurements to monitor the health of your gums, take x-rays, screen for oral cancer and abnormalities, clean your teeth, polish your teeth, floss, educate on home care, request the doctor where necessary and answer any questions regarding recommendations of treatment.
A good dental hygienist wants patients to succeed in maintaining strong teeth and leading a generally healthy lifestyle. They are a critical resource in helping you achieve that. Their goal is to prevent disease or stop disease if it’s already started, since several diseases have been linked to bacteria from the mouth and the chronic inflammation that follows.
Whether you need to clean up your eating habits, brush up on the latest flossing techniques, or even quit smoking, your dental hygienist is a valuable partner to help you achieve the healthy smile you deserve.
• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.