Most people talk about "seeing the dentist," but in reality it takes an entire dental team to make your appointment run smoothly. In fact, after the front office staff, the first person you usually see is a dental hygienist who spends time assessing, cleaning and preparing your teeth for the dental treatment to come.
Registered dental hygienists (RDH) are licensed oral health professionals who assist the doctor, thoroughly clean your teeth, screen for tooth decay and disease, and help educate you about how to maintain great oral health. They often work side by side with the dentist to efficiently complete your dental care.
The duties performed by your dental hygienist will vary by state. However in many cases, they will perform some or all of the following:
- Apply fluoride and dental sealants
- Take and process X-rays
- Administer nitrous oxide
- Examine head, neck and mouth for disease
- Teach patients good oral hygiene practices
- Remove dental tartar
- Dental cleaning and teach patients to floss
- Collect dental history and complete dental charts
Screening for signs of cavities, oral cancer and periodontal disease is one of the most important services your dental hygienist provides. But did you know that symptoms of conditions like heart disease and diabetes can show up in your mouth as well? If your RDH detects any signs to suggest larger health issues, he or she may recommend that you see a physician right away.
May I See Your License, Please?
Not just anyone can become a registered dental hygienist. First they must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school with a certificate, associate or baccalaureate degree. In addition, they must pass a national written dental hygiene exam and a clinical state board exam, as well as meet the license requirements for their individual states.
By the time dental hygienists begin treating patients, they've gone through extensive training and testing to become an expert in the field. This makes them an invaluable part of your dental team, ensuring your teeth stay healthy and look and feel great for years to come.