Can a Dental Hygienist Career Be Right for You?

dental hygiene students and teacher are discussing a dental problem together

The occupation of dental hygienist or oral hygienist continues to grow today, but many South Africans may not fully understand the role's responsibilities, what an oral hygienist career might entail or what such a hygienist does to promote oral and total body health. Established in 1978, the Oral Hygienists Association of South Africa (OHASA) is a professional association representing oral hygienists as invaluable members of the health profession team.

What Is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a healthcare professional who provides educational, clinical and therapeutic dental care to the public, all while focusing on disease prevention through a healthy mouth. Dental hygienists often practise in private dental offices, seeing patients for assessments, routine preventive care and the management of early gum problems. OHASA holds that dental hygienists in South Africa can also apply sealants and fluoride treatments, administer local or topical anaesthetics to make procedures more comfortable, and offer instructions that guide their patients on the road to making healthier choices through home care and nutritional value.

What Is a Typical Day Like?

A clinical dental hygienist generally sees between six and 10 patients per day in a private or speciality practice. As most hygienists work in the general practice setting, these patients can range in age from infants to senior citizens. Nonetheless, the dental hygienist must be ready to assess each patient for issues such as gum problems, dental cavities and oral cancer – regardless of the nature of one's appointment. He or she also provides each patient with a tailor-made plan for improving or maintaining oral hygiene at home. These personal home-care instructions include recommendations for all forms of effective oral care products: mouthrinses, toothbrushes, floss and anti-cavity toothpastes.

What Makes Them an Asset to the Practice?

A registered oral hygienist needs a strong background in the social sciences, biological sciences and communications to be an effective member of a healthcare team. Universities across the country offer three-year programmes at the end of which a Degree in Oral Hygiene is issued. To be admitted into oral hygiene programmes, students must have completed 12 years of schooling and must have matriculated.

How do You Become a Registered Oral Hygienist?

In order to be registered with the Professional Board for Dental Assisting, Dental Therapy and Oral Hygiene, an oral hygienist must complete an accredited oral hygiene programme through a university. This means the university in question has undergone a specific process to prove its programme properly trains each student to perform preventative dental care safely and effectively as an oral hygienist upon graduation.

Where Else Can a Dental Hygienist Work?

A dental hygienist may go on to work in private general or specialised practice, public or community healthcare centres, hospitals, corporate dental businesses, educational facilities or research centres. It's a rewarding path that opens up many different doors, both for the patient and the prospective dental professional.

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 Ceaning – 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.