What does a dental hygienist do?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis and provide other preventive dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.
Dental hygienists typically do the following:
- Remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
- Apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
- Take and develop dental X-rays
- Assess patients’ oral health and report findings to dentists
- Document patient care and treatment plans
- Educate patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly
Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job.
They clean and polish teeth with hand, power, and ultrasonic tools. In some cases, they use lasers. Hygienists remove stains with an air-polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a powered tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists use X-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems.
Some states allow hygienists with additional training, sometimes called dental therapists, to work with an expanded scope of practice.
Dental hygienists help patients develop and maintain good oral health. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They may also give advice to patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral care devices.
The tasks hygienists may perform, and the extent to which they must be supervised by a dentist, vary by state and by the setting in which the dental hygienist works. For example, some states allow hygienists to diagnose certain health problems independently of a dentist.