This week is Dental Hygienist Appreciation Week! Dental hygienists play a key role in the dental community and work hard to keep smiles healthy and bright. Here are 10 facts you may not know about dental hygienists that will help you appreciate all their hard work and dedication to the profession.
1. They have been in the profession for quite some time
Dental hygiene isn’t exactly a new profession. The first dental hygiene school opened in Connecticut in 1913, after dentists realized the importance of oral hygiene in preventing decay and disease. Basically, they needed an expert in oral hygiene and disease prevention, and hygienists started to be trained! Today, there are more than 200,000 dental hygienists working to keep teeth and gums healthy in America.
2. They go through a lot of education
Prior to even getting accepted into a dental hygiene program, you need two years of prerequisites, ranging from anatomy to psychology. After getting accepted into a dental hygiene program (which tends to be very competitive, as most hygiene schools only accept less than 20 students per year), you enter into an intensive course load. The hygiene course load is filled with challenging classes, like pharmacology, pathology, and embryology. These classes cover not only dental education but medical topics as well, as oral hygiene is systemic and affects the whole body. You also have to take clinical classes, perfecting your instrumentation skills and patient relation skills. All of this means school happens pretty much all day, every day. Not for the faint of heart. After becoming a licensed professional, hygienists can continue to further their education, pursuing, master's, and even doctoral degrees in dental hygiene.
3. They take national board examinations
Just like most medical and dental providers, hygienists take a written board exam that covers a ton of different topics. This test has hundreds of questions and takes several hours to complete. They also have to take a clinical board, where they are required to find their own patients and perform dental hygiene treatment.
4. They can inject anesthesia
Hygienists are trained in local anesthesia administration and can give injections to numb patients, just like dentists. While not all states allow hygienists to practice this procedure, if hygienists are licensed in a state that allows it, they can use these injections to numb patients for periodontal therapy. Fun fact, most hygiene schools require hygiene students to practice these injections on each other, prior to patients. So chances are, hygiene students will have numb mouths for a good portion of a semester.
5. They don’t just work in dental offices
Dental hygienists are widely needed in a variety of settings, like hospitals, schools, and public health clinics. They can provide preventative treatment and oral education to many patients who may not have access to direct dental care. Although most states have limitations on what hygienists can perform without the direct supervision of a dentist, in certain cases hygienists can provide preventative treatment and may use teledentistry to have dentists diagnose larger problems outside of the hygiene scope of practice.
6. They can sometimes do fillings on patients
In certain territories, hygienists are trained to do fillings and other restorative work. This allows hygienists to provide care to rural areas where dentists aren’t readily available and help provide care to patients who may not have access to larger dental practices.
7. It’s a physical job
Another misconception about the profession is that you “sit all day”. No way. You run around, break down your unit, grab supplies, and try to squeeze in a bite or a bathroom break in between patients. It also puts a ton of strain on the musculoskeletal system, and hygienists need to go through extra care to take care of themselves and stay healthy, using yoga, chiropractic therapy, or other exercises to stay injury free.
8. They don’t just “clean teeth”
That is like saying doctors just check your blood pressure. Hygienists record medical histories and blood pressure, take and develop radiographs, check bone levels, evaluate gum health, and give detailed home care instructions, like choosing which toothbrush has the right features for you. Then, the hygienist will perform a personalized “cleaning” based on the needs of the patient. Saying hygienists “just clean teeth” simply does not describe all they do for their patient's health.
9. They are concerned with your whole health, not only your teeth
Oral health is systemic, and with all the bacteria hanging out in our mouths, it is important to know how they affect the whole body. Conditions like diabetes, heart problems, and cancer are all linked to bacteria found in poor oral hygiene and gum disease. Your hygienist knows not only what is best for your mouth, but what is best for your whole body. “Brushing and flossing” instructions are really ways to prevent disease in your whole body and will help you keep your teeth forever!
10. They know when you lie about flossing
Honesty is the best policy! If you don’t floss, they know. Gums speak for themselves. Be open with your hygienist about your current home care routine. Your dental hygienist can give you all the tips, like why it is important to change your brush head every three months. They know how to get your teeth and gums in tip-top shape, and can help you get into a consistent routine that equips you with healthy habits!