What is a dental hygienist?
Dental hygienists are specially trained to work as part of the dental team, to give care to patients. They play an important part in dental health care and are mainly concerned with preventive dental health and treating gum disease – showing you correct home care and helping to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
The hygienist’s main work is to prevent and treat gum disease. This includes professionally cleaning your teeth by removing plaque and tartar (usually called a ‘scale and polish’ or a prophylaxis). However, perhaps their most important role is showing you the best way to keep your teeth free of plaque. Plaque is a sticky coating that forms constantly on your teeth. Hygienists also give advice about diet and about preventing tooth decay.
Why is this dental treatment important?
Regular professional cleaning to remove plaque and tartar, combined with looking after your teeth and gums properly at home, will help keep your mouth healthy. A clean and healthy mouth will improve your appearance, help you to keep your teeth and give you fresh breath.
Can a hygienist help prevent dental disease?
This is what the training of the hygienist is all about. They will carefully remove the hard deposits of tartar (or ‘calculus’) that build up on the teeth and teach you how to prevent them coming back. This will do a lot to slow the progress of gum disease.
By talking to you about your diet, and recommending other preventive measures, the hygienist can help you keep to a routine that will slow down tooth decay. Regular visits and advice will help build your confidence in keeping your mouth healthy.
What other help can be given to adults?
Adults who have a lot of decay can benefit from having fluoride applied. They can also have anti-bacterial gels and solutions applied under the gum to kill the bacteria causing gum disease.
Another very important part of the hygienist’s work is showing you and telling you how to look after your mouth at home. The hygienist may also suggest giving up smoking, as this will reduce staining and improve your general health. Research has also shown that smokers have more gum disease and lose more teeth than non-smokers. Your hygienist will be able to advise you on various ways of giving up smoking. They can also give you special advice for home care if you have dental implants or orthodontic appliances.
What help is available for children?
Children can benefit from having their teeth polished. The hygienist can also apply fluoride varnishes to help prevent’ decay.
The permanent (or ‘adult’) back teeth can also benefit from having the biting surfaces sealed. This is done by applying a special plastic coating to the biting surface soon after the teeth come through.
You can do a lot to help yourself and the hygienist, as you are the one who looks after your mouth in between visits to the practice. Your hygienist will have shown you how to remove plaque with a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
They will also have shown you how to clean between your teeth with ‘interdental’ brushes, floss or tape.