Generally the role of a dental hygienist includes helping patients prevent dental problems and also educate them about proper dental care. A dental hygienist will work closely with dentists in general practice, hospitals and community dental services.
Dental hygienists roles include responsibilities in both clinical and health promotion. On the clinical side, they help treat and prevent the gum disease by scaling tartar and tooth polishing, applying antimicrobial and prophylactic materials, they also take dental x-rays, CT scans and carryout screening and monitoring procedures. On the promotional side, they educate people about oral hygiene. Their main responsibilities include:
- Treating and helping to prevent gum disease (advanced periodontal therapy)
- Applying sealants and fluorides to prevent tooth decay
- Scaling and polishing teeth
- Demonstrating brushing and flossing techniques
- Taking impressions, radiographs and x-rays of teeth
- Providing temporary emergency replacement fillings or crowns
- Offering advice on dental care and proper diet
Other roles a dental hygienist may be required to perform include placing and removing periodontal dressings and preparing clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests. With further training, they can treat patients who have been sedated, perform tooth whitening, remove sutures, extract deciduous teeth with the use of painkillers and also undertake pulp treatments along with applying of preformed crowns on to milk teeth.
The five main steps in the dental hygiene treatment procedure are:
1. Assessment: The first stage in the treatment is a complete review of the patient’s oral and medical history. This helps the dental hygienist decide what x-rays have to be taken. The patient undergoes a full clinical examination of the mouth and periodontal assessment. All procedures and results are fully documented.
2. Diagnosis: A dental hygiene diagnosis is made after studying the patient’s condition. This helps in the identifying the problem to be treated and the formulation of a proper treatment plan or therapy by the doctor or dentist.
3. Planning Treatment: A treatment plan is organised depending on the patient’s immediate needs.
4. Plan Implementation: The treatment plan is executed in a systematic manner and all results and records are properly maintained.
5. Evaluation: The treatment is evaluated to examine effectiveness and modifications effected out if necessary.
The professional qualification for dental hygienist in the UK is a degree or diploma in dental hygiene and therapy from a General Dental Council (GDC) approved dental university or school. GDC registration is mandatory before starting on the job.
Besides being professional qualified, a dental hygienist must have excellent manual dexterity, good interpersonal and communication skills and work well as part of a team.
Dental hygienists can work full-time or part-time. The scenario could be a dentist’s office, hospital or community dental services. Hygienists can see a patient when the dentist is not in the office, provided the patient’s treatment has been prescribed by the dentist. A few years in the role could see the dental hygienist becoming a dental practice manager, dental hygienist instructor or orthodontic therapist.