Chances are, the first person you'll meet for a regular checkup at your local dentist's office is the dental hygienist. You may have even wondered about a dental hygienist education yourself. Equipped with a steady hand and delicate approach, the dental hygienist is responsible for cleaning your teeth, examining them for signs of disease and educating you on the best ways to keep your mouth and teeth healthy. Knowing a little more about the level of experience needed, however, can be a helpful determinant of whether a particular dental practice is right for you.
The Role of Your Dental Hygienist
Your dental hygienist wears many hats, and is responsible for more than just removing plaque buildup. This person also takes X-rays, keeps track of your current dental plan and advises you on oral hygiene techniques you may need to "brush" up on. This includes flossing correctly, which many people don't know how to do.
Depending on where you live, your dental hygienist can also prepare periodontal dressings, place temporary fillings and sculpt filling materials. In all states, dental hygienists are a key source of advice in a dental practice, helping patients to understand the role of a good diet or recommending the best cleaning tools to use at home, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS).
The Nature of Their Education
A dental hygienist education not only spans at least two years, but it also requires one to become licensed before they can practice and that's true across the U.S. To work in the field, a dental hygienist typically obtains an associate's degree, which is a two-year curriculum. Nonetheless, some schools also offer bachelor's degree programs for various specialties within dentistry.
A hygienist's training will include the study of anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiology and periodontology, the BLS reports. And during his or her training, the hygienist will successfully complete coursework in class along with hands-on clinical and lab instruction.
Skills and Experience
Teeth-cleaning devices, laser-driven appliances and special cameras are just some of the tools your dental hygienist will have practiced with prior to becoming a hygienist, per the Occupational Information Network. Just as well, before they can be licensed, hygienists need to know how to interpret charts and X-rays to relay the existence of certain types of decay or infection. They'll also need to know how to examine the gums for periodontal disease, and the chin for "lymph nodes" that might indicate the presence of oral cancer.
In addition to patient-centered training, hygienists are thoroughly trained in dental equipment upkeep. In other words, a great dental hygienist has a competent handle on many aspects of and many instruments in your dental office. Of course, she will have a keen eye for spotting and identifying abnormalities and alerting your dentist about each one. This allows for a thorough examination of your mouth to help your dentist diagnose any problems before they advance any further.
Choosing the Best One
Choosing a good dentist includes assessing the care you receive from your dental hygienist. Someone who shows a true ease with dental equipment, as well as a great chairside manner and gentle touch is an extremely valuable part of any dental practice. The best dental hygienists can combine excellent training with a knack for an easy rapport with patients to set a good first impression on even the newest patient. In listening to your concerns and thoroughly reviewing your chart, she understands how best to let your dentist know what treatments might be needed.
Finding the best dental hygienist is important, but good oral care habits are one of the most essential parts of maintaining a healthy mouth. Keeping your regular checkups, while using with toothbrushes like Colgate® 360® Total® Advanced Floss-Tip Bristles to make daily flossing as comfortable and easy as it should be, are always the best ways to receive a clean bill of health in the dental chair.