When choosing a dental practice, most patients focus on the dentists and the scope of the dental practice. However, for routine dental care such as regular dental cleanings and checkups, most patients will spend the majority of their time with the dental hygienist without fully understanding the important role the dental hygienist plays in maintaining the patient’s oral health.
Dental hygienists are the primary providers of critically important preventative dental care. Most patients understand that the dental hygienists job is to provide dental cleaning (also called prophylaxis). Cleaning teeth and removing plaque, tartar, and stains is a major role filled by dental hygienists, but in addition to cleaning teeth, they take and interpret dental X-rays, provide patient education about oral health issues, apply sealants and fluoride, perform the initial assessment of the patient’s oral health and handle other duties.
Dental hygienists are licensed health care professionals. Most dental hygienists complete at least a two year college level course of study at a university, community college, technical school or dental school. They must also pass a comprehensive written and practical examination before being licensed by the state. Some dental hygienists complete a four or five year college level program.
Except for a few states, a licensed dental hygienist is required to work under the supervision of a dentist. In most general and family dental practices, the dental hygienist is a vitally important part of the dental care team and can be an excellent source of information and advice for keeping your teeth in great shape.
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