What is a Dental Hygienist?

The Dental Hygienist – Your Smile’s Best Friend

by The Dentist Brisbane

Let’s consider for a moment one of the best allies your teeth can have – your dental hygienist.  These professionals are the unsung heroes in the ongoing struggle against cavities, gum disease, tooth loss and other obstacles to putting your best smile forward.  Often considered just an adjunct to the real doctor – as in, ‘do I get to see the dentist?’ – dental hygienists take a much more proactive approach to your oral health than any dentist ever will.

Dentists see a ‘hole’ and they fill it.  Dental hygienists actively work to prevent the ‘hole’ or cavity from forming in the first place.  Over the lifetime of your dental appointments and exams, you will spend far more time with your dental hygienist than any other staff member of the practice, so it pays to get to know your hygienist well!   Oh, yes, you will get to see the dentist – that is standard with every examination visit at Bite Dental Studio.

Your dental hygienist is a graduate of a formal educational program with at least three years of university training in dental hygiene.  Most common is the Bachelor of Oral Health, a four-year degree program.  All dental hygienists in Australia must be licensed by the state in which they practice.

A Day in the Life of a Dental Hygienist

On a typical workday, a dental hygienist will see 8 to 10 patients.  Many of these will be coming in for their regularly scheduled exam and cleaning.  Your visit with the dental hygienist will begin with questions about your medical history and may include taking of necessary x-rays.  It’s important that you answer honestly and completely here. If you have recently experienced any mouth sores or tooth pain, for example, your dental hygienist wants to know about it – this is not the time to be ‘strong and silent.’  For another example, if you are pregnant, be sure to inform your hygienist up-front so your condition can be noted on your chart, along with the expected due date and any complications or concerns your OB/GYN may have identified.  You want to get this information out in front, before any x-rays are taken!

Next, your dental hygienist will perform a check of your oral health, including  periodontal or gum disease.   The aim here is to catch these things so we can correct them in the early stages, before they become big problems with more intensive treatment and poorer outcomes on the horizon.  That’s also why we recommend you have regular exams and cleanings every 6 months.

Now, it’s time for your hygienist to get the tools out.  The next step of the dental hygienist’s work involves using instruments to remove any tartar, plaque or stains from your teeth.  This is where you lie back in the chair with that light shining in your eyes, while you listen to the scrape-scrape-scrape of the instrument sliding across your teeth.  It’s not always comfortable, and we know it – but it is necessary to keep your teeth in good shape.  Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you.  If that headrest is a ‘pain in the neck’ we can adjust it for a better fit, and give you a small pillow for greater comfort.  That bright light can be repositioned so it doesn’t shine in your eyes, but still lets the hygienist see inside your mouth.  We’re always attentive to your comfort level, but we’re not mind readers, so please free to feel to let us know!

Raise Your Right Hand …

What about when the dental hygienist is working with tools on your teeth and gums?  Bite Dental hygienists are acute readers of their patients’ body language, but these signs can still be misinterpreted.  Is that grimace a genuine reaction to pain – or just to an annoying sound, like perhaps the drill going on in the treatment room next door.  How about developing a signal both you and your hygienist will understand, before the tools come out.  A simple raising of your right hand, for example, can mean ‘back off.’  This is very useful when the hygienist hits a tender area – much better than trying to turn your head or jerk away from the pain.  That’s one thing you don’t want to do when there are sharp instruments in your mouth!

You could also signal for a pause when you need to cough, swallow, sip some water or blow your nose, for example.  Life goes on, even when you’re getting your teeth cleaned, and sometimes we just have to take a break and let it happen!

The final step in your appointment with the hygienist is to get your teeth all polished up and shiny, and flossed as well. Before you leave, the dentist will examine your teeth and gums once more, and discuss with you any problems found and their recommended treatment.  Your dental hygienist will also make sure you understand how to brush, floss and carry out other self-care practices at home. He or she will identify the best kind of brush or floss to use for your teeth, and give you samples to take with you. And now that you’ve been assessed, recorded, scraped and cleaned, you can head back out into the world with your teeth their whitest and your smile its brightest!

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