In order to become a dental hygienist, a candidate must first complete a college program in dental hygiene. Students in the program may earn an associate degree at a community college, a bachelor's degree at a four-year university, or a graduate degree. Admissions to programs in dental hygiene usually require a background of high school courses in science.
After completing the academic college-level courses, dental hygienist candidates must then complete a supervised clinical experience with patients. Once the program is finished, dental hygienists must earn their state license in the practice. According to the American Dental Association, some states also require candidates to earn a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam.
Before starting any examination or cleaning, the dental hygienist may first review the patient’s health and history. The dental provider reviews the patient’s dental records and health information. Then, the provider may discuss the patient’s concerns before going to the next step of the appointment.
Next, the dental hygienist cleans the teeth. They may use a professional polisher to remove build-up and stains on the enamel. They also use tools to remove tartar and plaque from the teeth and the gum line.
Some dental hygienists may provide preventative services during a routine visit. Fluoride treatment helps keep the teeth healthy and strong. Dental sealant application to prevent tooth decay may also be part of a routine appointment.
For most patients, it is recommended to get their teeth cleaned twice a year. Regular teeth cleanings at the dentist may help prevent cavities and plaque build-up. They can also help spot possible problems in the teeth and monitor them for the future.
During a routine cleaning, the hygienist will spend time scraping off the tartar on the patient's teeth. The hygienists will use a tool called a scaler and a small dental mirror to guide their work. Patients may hear the sound of the scaler working against their teeth during this part of the cleaning.
Tartar starts off as build-up and plaque in between the spaces of the teeth and along the gums. At home, patients can remove the plaque and build-up by regularly flossing. Once it hardens, it turns into tartar, which can only be removed and cleaned off by a dental provider.
If a patient needs dental X-rays, the hygienist may take them. Bite-wing X-rays are used when the dentist needs to get a closer look at certain parts of the mouth. Panoramic X-rays give dental providers a complete look at the entire set of teeth and jawbone structures.
Patients who received a fluoride treatment may need to wait about 30 minutes to eat or drink. It is also smart to avoid certain hard or crunchy foods right after a professional cleaning. Hygienists also make it a point to remind patients to keep brushing and flossing after their visit.