A dental hygienist is a dental professional who works in collaboration with the general dentist to meet the oral health needs of the patients they serve. Dental hygienists are preventative health care experts who work with the general dentist to provide services for healthy gums and the management and maintenance of gum (periodontal) disease. A dental hygienist’s education is between two to four years and consists of basic sciences, dental sciences, clinical science and application and general education. A dental hygienist must pass National Board Exams and State Board Exams to hold a license to practice. Most states require 12 to 24 clock hours of continuing education per year to maintain licensure as a dental hygienist.
What procedures are performed by a dental hygienist?
The range of services provided by dental hygienists can vary from state to state. Some of the services provided by a dental hygienist may include:
- Patient-screening procedures, such as assessment of oral-health conditions, periodontal charting, review of the patient’s health history, oral cancer screening, head and neck inspection and dental charting
- Taking and developing dental radiographs (X-rays)
- Healthy mouth cleaning (prophylaxis)
- Non-surgical treatment for the management of gum infections or periodontal disease (scaling and root planing, laser decontamination, administration of localized antibiotics)
- Applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g., sealants and fluorides)
- Administration of local anesthesia and nitrous oxide
- Teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health (e.g., toothbrushing, flossing and nutritional counseling)
- Counseling patients about good nutrition and how it impacts oral health
- Working in collaboration with the dentist to plan treatment for the best process of care
Where do dental hygienists work?
Dental hygienists work clinically in general dental practices and specialty practices, such as periodontics, pediatrics, orthodontics, oral surgery and hospital settings. Dental hygienists find career paths in research, education, administration, business development and as entrepreneurs.
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