*Nearly everyone who visits the dentist’s office for a biannual check-up is familiar with the role of the dental hygienist. The dental hygienist acts like a gatekeeper to the world of oral health. A hygienist performs the deep clean of your teeth, flags trouble spots that could become cavities, reviews how diet can affect the health of your mouth, and much more. A dental hygienist works with a patient to prep for an appearance before the dentist, such as for crown and filling procedures. The work of a dental hygienist goes a long way to prevent tooth decay and maintain a patient’s oral health. The importance of having hygienists on staff cannot be understated! Here’s an overview of just how crucial the role is to any thriving dental practice. WHAT DOES A DENTAL HYGIENIST DO? The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) defines dental hygienists as “licensed oral health professionals who focus on preventing and treating oral diseases – both to protect teeth and gums, and also to protect patients’ total health.” Dental hygienists must be licensed by the state they work in. This requires graduating from a college or university dental hygienist program as well as passing a written national board examination and a state clinical examination, according to DentalCareersEDU.org. As licensed professionals, dental hygienists perform most of their work independently –unlike dental assistants, who must work directly under the supervision of a licensed dentist. Above all, a dental hygienist’s most important duty is to advise patients on how to keep their teeth free of plaque. Plaque is the sticky coating that forms constantly on your teeth. Your dental hygienist can also work with you, your dentist and specialists to create a tailored routine to prevent tooth decay and keep other oral health problems at bay. Although the range of services dental hygienists perform can vary from state to state, the ADHA lists the position’s core responsibilities: Perform oral health care assessments that include the review of patients’ health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, and evaluation of gum disease / health; Expose, process, and interpret dental radiographs (x-rays); Remove plaque and tartar from above and below the gumline using dental instruments; Apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth; Administer local anesthetic and / or nitrous oxide analgesia Educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums; Counsel patients about plaque control and developing individualized at-home oral hygiene programs; Administer smoking cessation programs; Counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health. In some practices, a dental hygienist can also perform teeth whitening procedures prescribed by the supervising dentist. In addition to carrying out these duties, a good dental hygienist will also demonstrate ease and competence with the various instruments and tools in a dental office. *Credit to the above ADHA various Dental Organizations on the internet.