What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

A dental hygienist wears many hats in the dental practice.  Most dental offices have more than one dental hygienist because the services they render to the patients are so vital.  EVERYONE needs to see a dental hygienist on a consistent basis!

Often people think that all a hygienist does is clean teeth.  Actually, their duties involve much more than just a single procedure.

Preventive Dental Treatments

The reason everyone should see a dental hygienist on a consistent basis is that the hygienist helps you prevent dental diseases.  What you may think of as “just a checkup” is actually an essential preventive visit.

Professional Teeth Cleanings

The procedure most people associate with dental hygienists is a professional teeth cleaning.  Officially termed a “prophylaxis”, the professional teeth cleaning lowers your risk for cavities and gum disease by removing all of the disease-causing bacteria from the teeth and gums.

The bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease live in both soft and hard buildup on the teeth.  The soft stuff (plaque) is easy to remove at home with great brushing and flossing techniques.  Once it hardens into tartar (also called calculus), you cannot remove it by yourself.  Your hygienist must use specialized dental instruments to clean it from the teeth.

We all constantly collect plaque every single day.  When we do not remove the plaque from the teeth, it hardens into tartar.  This happens to everyone, even the best brushes and flosser.  The longer this buildup remains on the teeth, the more likely it is to cause cavities and/or gum disease.  And that is why everyone needs professional teeth cleanings on a consistent basis. 

Dental Sealants

Sealants are a protective coating placed on the deep grooves and pits of the teeth to prevent cavities.  They fill in hard-to-clean areas on the biting surface of teeth, leaving a smooth surface that resists plaque buildup and is easier to clean. 

Dental sealants are especially helpful in young children, who are not as proficient in brushing their teeth.  Sealants are not just for children, though.  Often, we recommend sealants in areas of the teeth that collect dark stains in the grooves.  If a groove or pit is deep enough to collect stains, you can be sure it is also collecting bacteria.  These stained areas are high-risk sites for cavities. Placing a dental sealant in these areas prevents those cavities from forming.

Application of Fluoride

One of the most under-rated preventive dental treatments is the professional fluoride application.  Fluoride works as a powerful anti-cavity and anti-sensitivity treatment.  Your dental hygienist may recognize signs of early cavity formation, sensitivity (as you squirm in his or her chair during your cleaning) and recommend a professional fluoride varnish application.  This simple treatment strengthens your enamel, fights cavities and acid erosion, and reduces the symptoms of teeth sensitivity.

Treatment for Gum Disease

So far, we have only described preventive treatments, which apply to healthy patients.  Our dental hygienists also play an important role in the treatment of gum disease.  Once a patient has gum disease, undergoing a series of specialized cleanings is the most important step in periodontal treatment.

The cause of the disease is the bacterial accumulation on the teeth below the gums.  As long as the plaque and tartar are present under the gums, the disease will continue to worsen.  Your hygienist takes the first step in treatment by removing all of the buildup under the gums through a procedure called Scaling and Root Planing, which most people simply call a “deep cleaning”.

Once started, gum disease is difficult to stop.  In order to successfully treat the disease, the proper cleaning and maintenance of your teeth is essential.

Patient Education

When you commit to consistent dental visits, you actually spend more time with your dental hygienist than the dentist, and that is a good thing.  Your dental hygienist is in the perfect position to spot early signs of dental disease or high-risk areas.  By educating you in areas of prevention and oral hygiene instruction, the hygienist helps you take an active part in your oral health.

Your hygienist will help you understand why a particular area has a high risk for dental disease and what you can do to prevent it.

October is National Dental Hygiene Month!

Call Prosper Family Dentistry at 972-347-1145 to schedule a visit with one of our wonderful dental hygienists today.  Staci, Kenneth, Rachel, and Micca can answer any questions you have about your need for preventive treatments, ways to improve your oral health, or any dental disease in need of treatment.

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