The Role of Dental Hygienists – Keeping Smiles Healthy

If there’s one area of dentistry which we believe is widely underrepresented, it’s the role of the dental hygienist. Often overlooked and encompassed under the umbrella term of “going to the dentist”, your dental hygienist actually fulfils a very important role of their own, covering a series of preventative measures that are designed, in short, to save you from requiring too much work from the dentist themselves. 

If you book twice-yearly check-ups at the dentist, the likelihood is that you will see the dentist first and then the dental hygienist – or the other way around. The dentist is the one who looks at the structure and stability of your teeth as a whole, earmarking potential damage and performing procedures that include but are not limited to fillings, tooth removal, fitting braces, installing dental implants, and more. The dental hygienist, meanwhile, is responsible for all things oral hygiene. 

The latter role is designed to empower you, the patient, with knowledge and insight into how important oral hygiene is to keep your mouth healthy and your teeth in excellent condition. Keep reading to find out more about the procedures that dental hygienists can and do perform, and why their role is so important. 

Do you need to see a dental hygienist regularly?

In short, yes. The dental hygienist is experienced in all things oral hygiene, and can connect your own dental routine with the health of your mouth and how clean your teeth are – both across the front surface, which can easily be seen, and across the back and sides of your teeth, which are not as visible. 

One of the most important things about a dental hygienist, and why seeing one regularly is so important, is that dental hygienists are often among the first to pick up on signs of something being wrong. While you might only see the dentist once a year or when something is wrong with your teeth, the dental hygienist is a more regular appointment, which can flag up early signs and symptoms of issues like gum disease and pending cavities. They can also recommend how best to overcome issues like bad breath, can offer advice on how to clear the harder to reach spots in your mouth, and can make early connections between other health conditions and your oral hygiene and health. 

What does a dental hygienist do during a standard appointment?

A dental hygienist appointment is all about checking in on your dental health and oral hygiene. Generally, the dental hygienist will check around the outside and inside of your mouth for any signs that you have an underlying condition to be concerned about, and will then probe your gums and check around the back and sides of your teeth to see if there is any plaque or bacteria that needs to be removed.

Most patients will be asked by the hygienist about their oral routine, how often they brush their teeth, and whether they floss regularly. This is not a quiz, and it’s important to recognise that they are not trying to catch you out – rather, they are asking so that they can provide you with the best possible advice to counteract any issues you have and to keep your teeth in the best possible condition in the long run. 

They will then use a combination of tools to complete a scale and polish, during which you may be aware of them scratching at the gaps between your teeth. This procedure helps to remove any plaque which has built up and which has been missed by brushing and flossing alone, before then polishing the teeth to leave them gleaming. 

Most dental hygienist appointments finish with the hygienist giving you advice on how best to maintain your clean teeth, and what to add to or change about your oral-health routine. They will then let you know how soon you should book your next appointment. 

The difference between a dental hygienist and a dentist

The two roles may get grouped together by patients, but actually the roles of a dentist and a dental hygienist are incredibly different. Your dentist is the one who can diagnose and then treat underlying conditions that may be causing sensitivity, pain, or even missing teeth. They can secure x-rays of your mouth to help with orthodontic work and prescriptions, can administer medications, and can perform specialised procedures to stabilise your teeth.

A dental hygienist is able to provide an in-depth clean, and is as much a resource for oral-hygiene education as they are a hands-on part of your next dental check-up. They tend to focus on plaque and other build-up, and will discuss issues like flossing and regular brushing with patients to ensure that they are maximising their own oral health and hygiene. In addition, a dental hygienist can also apply topical fluoride to areas of high sensitivity, and will be able to advise on the best things you can do at home to minimise irritation, to alleviate existing sensitivity, and to transform your smile to make it whiter and brighter. 

Why is the dental hygienist role so important?

If you don’t see a dental hygienist regularly for an update on your oral hygiene, for removal of plaque and build-up, and for an overall scale and polish, then the chances are that you will require more severe dental work sooner. 

When plaque is allowed to build up and the teeth are not effectively flossed and cleaned using professional-grade equipment – as well as at-home treatment – you will find that you start to develop other issues, such as gum disease and tooth cavities. 

With all that in mind, it’s time to ask yourself a question – have you seen a dental hygienist recently? Booking an appointment sooner rather than later is one of the best ways of taking back control over your oral hygiene and ensuring that the steps you are taking to maximise your own health and wellbeing are working for you and for your teeth.