If you’ve been thinking a dental hygienist is a sort of assistant to your dentist, think again. Dental hygienists are licensed health care professionals with an extensive education – and clinical practice – in preventive oral health care.
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, and it’s a perfect time to get to know how your hygienist helps to keep your mouth – and body – healthy.
What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?
Dental hygienists specialize in preventive oral health care. Your dental hygienist assesses and monitors your oral health. He or she looks for cavities and evidence of gum disease. The hygienist can develop a treatment plan to manage these issues, and treat these diseases by removing plaque (a biofilm that contains bacteria) and calculus (tartar) from both above and below the gum line.
During a routine cleaning, the hygienist uses a scaler (a small metal instrument) to scrape off tartar above and below the gum line. He or she may also use an ultrasonic vibrating device to shake loose plaque and tartar. The areas between your teeth will also be cleaned, and your teeth polished with a gently abrasive paste. Not only do your teeth look smooth and shiny, the now slippery surface makes it a little harder for plaque to build up on your teeth.
Your dental hygienist can tell you about the best ways to avoid dental decay and gum disease, including developing a nutritional plan that will help keep your mouth and teeth healthy. He or she can show you how to brush and floss correctly, and help you educate your children on the importance of good oral hygiene.
Your hygienist likely is also monitoring your mouth for symptoms of medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and oral cancer, and will keep you informed about his or her findings.
Dental hygienists may also apply fluorides and sealants, and in some states, polish and contour dental fillings. He or she may take, develop and interpret oral X-rays. In some states, registered dental hygienists may administer local anesthesia and/or nitrous oxide.
National Dental Hygiene Month
During October, members of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) focus on sharing health information with patients and the community.
Your hygienist may strike up a conversation about the “Daily 4.” This refers to brushing teeth twice daily for two minutes at a time, flossing (or otherwise cleaning between teeth using toothpicks, soft picks or interdental brushes) daily, rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash and chewing sugar free gum after eating or drinking when brushing isn’t possible in order to stimulate saliva flow, which helps stops plaque from forming.
With regular preventative checkups and cleanings, and good oral health practices at home, you’re much less likely to need costly treatments intended to salvage or replace decaying, weak teeth.
Dental insurance typically covers the full cost of checkups and cleanings. But if you don’t have insurance, and can’t afford to see your dentist and hygienist regularly, look into dental savings plans.
Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to dental insurance. Plan members pay a low annual membership fee for access to an extensive network of participating dentists and dental specialists that provide discounts – typically 10%-60% – on dental care at the time of service. Since they are not dental insurance, dental savings plans do not have co-payments, deductibles, paperwork hassles or annual spending limits. Find out more about dental savings plans on dentalplans.com.