A Day in the Life of a Dental Hygienist

person looking calm and smiling

Have you ever been sitting in the dentist's chair and wondered about the dental hygienist taking your x-rays? It's pretty clear what a dentist is, but who is this person poking around in your mouth? Here's your chance to take a walk in their shoes and learn more about what their responsibilities are. Imagine you're a dental hygienist — this is your typical day at work:

8:00 am: You arrive at work. First thing is to review patient charts for everyone with an appointment today. You want to be prepared to provide the best care to each patient, so you look at their medical history and information from their last visit. What's the reason for their appointment today? Is it a cleaning, a toothache, a procedure? Now you have an idea what the day holds and feel ready to get started.

8:30 am: You join the staff meeting that happens every morning — just a quick huddle to talk through the day. After that, you check room supplies to make sure everything is well stocked and take note of anything that needs to be ordered. You prep the treatment room for your first appointment, making sure the tools are clean and organized.

9:00 am: Game on! Your first patient is here for a deep cleaning and you know they have active gum disease and will need specialized care. You work carefully to clear the plaque and tartar out of any gum pockets that have formed from the periodontitis. After the cleaning, you give them some tips on reversing gum disease by preventing plaque build-up.

10:00 am: Your next patient is a six year old with a toothache. She's a little nervous about being at the dentist, so you introduce her to Toothy (the stuffed crocodile) that she can hold onto during her exam. You have to get x-rays so Toothy reminds her not to wiggle! After your exam, you tell the dentist that the patient appears to have a small cavity. The dentist takes a look, and you assist by bringing up x-rays, making notes in the chart and getting the dentist the tools she needs. The dentist recommends that the patient comes in for a follow-up visit to get a filling. Before they leave, you talk to the parents about ways to prevent tooth decay, and you make sure Toothy gives your patient a big hug.

11:00 am — 4:00 pm: The day is a whirlwind of patients, from taking dental impressions for a crown to giving a fluoride treatment to creating oral health plans for every patient outlining their next steps, whether it's better flossing habits or oral surgery.

4:30 pm: The staff starts cleaning up for the day, and you take equipment back to be sterilized. You reflect on your favorite moment of the day: your compassion and empathy helped calm a patient's anxiety about coming to the dentist for the first time in years. It felt great to reassure him that the whole dental care team is there to help him have a healthy smile, not to judge or admonish. You came up with a plan for him to come back next week for a root canal, and gave him a sticker, just for fun. He left smiling — everything you could hope for!

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What To Expect During a DENTAL VISIT

On your first visit, your dentist will take a full health history. On follow-up visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell your dentist. Here’s what you can expect during most trips to the dentist.

  • A Thorough Cleaning – a dental hygienist or dentist will scrape along and below the gum line to remove built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Then he or she will polish and floss your teeth.

  • A Full Dental Examination – your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems.

  • X-Rays – X-rays can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed, such as damage to jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth.