At our practice in rural New South Wales, we have our own dental hygiene department because the role of the dental hygienist is so important. When you think of a dental hygienist, you may think of their role as being to scrape under your gums and teach you how to floss, but there’s so much more at stake.
Specifically, it’s the responsibility of the dental hygienist to clean my patients’ teeth, to examine them for signs of oral disease, to provide preventive dental care, and to educate them about how to improve and maintain good oral health.
Basically, once I have examined a patient, a hygienist will take over the program of maintaining dental hygiene from me, becoming responsible for education about dental hygiene, as well as becoming a critical part of the six-monthly check-up or maintenance appointments. The hygienist sees the patient first and I examine their teeth later in the appointment.
This differs radically from how check-ups were treated traditionally. These days, check-ups factor in how you’re looking after your teeth and gums at home, as opposed to just a quick scour and clean before seeing you again in another six months.
After the first consultation with me, most patients will visit the hygienist at subsequent appointments. That said, I do have patients who prefer only to see me, and that’s fine too! For instance, some elderly patients and some of the more phobic patients prefer to see only me. It could be that we’ve worked hard to make the patient feel comfortable or they’ve been seeing me for decades: in either case, that’s absolutely fine. No-one will disrupt the status quo if that’s the patient’s wish.
However, for the majority of new patients, the process involves seeing me for the initial examination, and thereafter—especially if they have periodontal disease—they’ll visit the hygienist for a great maintenance program, followed by me for a dental exam.
Good dental hygiene is a precursor to aesthetic dental work
My dental practice is aesthetically orientated. This means that, among other things, before undertaking any sort of aesthetic work it’s critical that a patient has a really healthy mouth and understands how to keep it that way. If that base level of dental hygiene isn’t there, any aesthetic work that’s undertaken won’t look anywhere near is as good as it should.
Likewise, where a larger dental procedure is required, or say if someone is having dental implants, a healthy mouth is a priority. As with any sort of operation, you want to minimise the number of bacteria in the affected site that could cause infection, again making regular trips to the hygienist a necessity.
The dental hygienist as a trouble spotter
Another crucial function when it comes to the dental hygienist is identifying teeth during the check-up that may require further investigation by me. Plus, I work in conjunction with the hygienist to offer an instant second opinion. For instance, sometimes you may not be aware of what’s going on in your mouth, but if the hygienist tells you and then I tell you the same thing afterwards, it really works to reinforce the message.
Not only does the awareness level lift, but so does the education level around dental hygiene and any dental issues. Too frequently, when it comes to dental issues, someone can already have a problem before becoming aware of it. If we can bring that problem to a patient’s attention before it’s reached a catastrophic point, then all the better!