Dental Hygienist’s Valuable role in dental office
A registered dental hygienist is a professional who is certified to help a dentist in treating and diagnosing patients. Their primary objective is to ensure that a dental patient’s oral health is in order and, if it is not, provide several treatments and instruct them how to better care for their teeth and gums. A dental hygienist uses techniques that are designed to prevent the onset and spread of periodontal disease. They also teach the patient how to better care for their teeth themselves by showing them correct brushing and flossing techniques and explaining how periodontal disease could be affecting their oral health. A dental hygienist can perform several minor treatments that can eliminate or slow bacteria from spreading further.
Local regulators decide the extent to which a dental hygienist is allowed to treat and diagnose a patient and, therefore, their responsibilities will vary by location. Typically, a dental hygienist will work in the practice of a dentist who will oversee the care they provide. Treatments that are often performed by a dental hygienist can include prophylaxis, root scaling and planing, x-rays, fluoride treatments, and general instruction. Many times they make an evaluation of the patient’s oral health independent of the dentist they work with, and then provide this evaluation to the dentist for their consideration.
A dental hygienist performs the following steps when conducting their evaluation:
Because oral health is associated with overall health, the dental hygienist will begin their evaluation by looking over the patient’s medical history. Next, they will examine the patient’s teeth and gums both visually and manually. This is done by taking x-rays and probing areas of concern. This evaluation will be recorded and handed over to the dentist to help them with their own assessment.
Before handing their evaluation of the patient’s oral health over to the dentist, the dental hygienist will review it themselves and create a preliminary recommendation. Because the dental hygienist is not qualified to diagnose the patient, this recommendation will only be given to the dentist for approval. The recommendation created only regards oral health and not more advanced issues that require a specialized knowledge.
After the diagnosis is analyzed, a treatment plan is designed to enhance the patient’s oral health by preventing the spread of periodontal disease and teaching good oral hygiene practices. The treatment plan can target problems such as gum disease, cavities, and plaque buildup.
Once the treatment plan has been implemented, the dental hygienist will review the results with the patient and the dentist to determine if the result is satisfactory. If, together, it is decided that the result did not work as was intended, another plan will be designed to improve upon areas in which the first treatment was unsuccessful.
Aspiring dental hygienists are required to earn a degree from a dental hygiene program that is accredited by the American Dental Association. There are currently over 200 such programs in the U.S. Most of these programs offer associate degrees but some offer certificates, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees. General education classes such as algebra, biology, and chemistry will need to be taken as well as those that are explicitly dedicated to learning dental hygiene techniques like radiology, periodontology, nutrition, clinical skills, pharmacology, and oral anatomy.
Those who wish to further their careers by gaining more knowledge in the field can elect to attend a bachelor’s program or even attain a master’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs are designed to enhance a hygienist’s general understanding of their field of practice and master’s degree programs are designed for those who want to become experts, often so they can instruct others who wish to become dental hygienists.
Once the degree is earned, candidates must pass a written examination and a clinical examination in order to become licensed to assess and treat patients. Not all of the exams are created equally since they are certified locally, not nationally, but most often the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination is used for the written portion of the certification.
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