An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s exactly what dental hygienists do. They are highly trained, licensed oral health care professionals whose prime objectives are the maintenance of good oral hygiene, and to act as an early-warning diagnostician. They are trained to spot the early warning signs of periodontitis and oral cancer, and they act as counsellors and advisers. They develop oral health care programs and give advice about diet and lifestyle choices.
Step 1: Medical History
As with any health professional the first step the dental hygienist will take will be a thorough review of your medical history. It is important for the hygienist to know of any prevailing medical condition.
QUESTIONS THAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO BE ASKED:
- Are you currently taking any medication?
- What oral routine do you follow at home?
- Do you have any allergies?
- Are you pregnant?
- Have you noticed any changes in your teeth? For example, are they any looser or do they appear to have changed position?
- Have you noticed any changes to your gums, like bleeding when you brush?
- Is there any increased sensitivity to hot or cold?
- Does your floss shred because it catches on the rough edge of a tooth?
Step 2: Examination
Next, would be a thorough examination of your mouth to ascertain the condition of your teeth and gums. In a lot of cases this will include an examination of your head and neck for signs of oral cancer. Low-dose x-rays are often used to check for, amongst others things, tumors, bone loss, abscesses and cysts and problems under the gum line or inside the tooth. If the hygienist comes across a serious problem, they will immediately refer you to a specialist, such as a periodontist.
Step 3: Cleaning
Only now will the hygienist start with the cleaning of your teeth. This involves the removal of accumulated plaque and calculus from your teeth with a process known as scaling and root planing. If your teeth are stained, they will be polished. The hygienist might also recommend fluoride treatment to combat decay and decrease sensitivity.
Step 4: Treatment Plan
Your hygienist will now sit down with you and plan an ongoing oral health care program. He or she will also discuss treatment of any oral health problem that was noticed during the initial examination. Advice will be given about brushing and flossing, what foods to avoid, and the dangers of neglecting a strict oral health care program.
THE ORAL HYGIENIST MIGHT SUGGEST THAT YOU:
- Use fluoride toothpaste with a soft bristled brush
- Wait 20 to 30 min after eating, before you brush your teeth.
- Floss every day
- Be careful of how many snacks and fizzy drinks you consume and, of course, advise you to quit smoking.
The dental hygienist’s role is primarily preventative. They keep your teeth and gums healthy by regular deep cleaning, but they also advise you on ongoing concerns and treatment plans, and act as an early warning system for more serious oral health problems. It is recommended that you visit the dental hygienist on a regular basis to maintain optimal oral health.