During routine dental checkups, patients spend a large portion of their time with the dental hygienist. A hygienist observes the condition of their teeth, scrapes plaque and tartar off, flosses to assess gum health, may apply fluoride treatments, and more, depending on the person.
The time spent on each procedure really adds up. These tasks are also hands-on and usually done without assistance. These factors contribute to certain misconceptions about hygienists and their place within a dental practice. Read on for a fuller picture of the role and the true work it involves.
Hygienists Just Clean Teeth
First, because they spend so much time on this, some presume hygienists only clean teeth. While on the face of it this seems true, they do so much more. Patients don’t realize the degree of analysis hygienists perform to properly advise patients and propose next steps.
When they communicate with the patient, they do so knowledgeably while addressing the individual’s best interest. Hygienists are educators as well as teeth cleaners, and their goal is to set patients on the path toward self-driven, proactive personal dental care.
They Mostly Work Alone
Another misconception about hygienists is, because patients don’t see them interact with dental assistants or dentists, that they must always work alone. While it’s certainly true that the patient-facing side of things is more solitary, when hygienists step away from the dental chair, they interact with many other professionals.
In order to piece together a sufficient treatment plan, dental hygienists coordinate with dentists as well as orthodontists and other dental specialists. This makes sense because hygienists have a wealth of information from the beginning of the appointment to share with others, especially within their practice.
They Are Basically Dentists
Another consequence of spending a chunk of time with hygienists is patients assume they are essentially dentists. In truth, the roles differ in required schooling, salary, and even their goal.
Prospective hygienists have a quicker path to work given that they need only two years of schooling before applying for a license and starting their career. That said, while dentists typically attend four years of dental school, they do receive a higher salary. While hygienists proactively clean teeth and educate, dentists, while certainly capable of that role, focus more on correcting present issues. They provide fillings for cavities, perform tooth extractions, and other procedures.
If you’re interested in a career in dental work, take the first step by contacting the American Institute of Dental Assisting. We offer 13-week dental assistant training in Phoenix, AZ, that gives you a springboard into helping patients. For those interested in becoming a hygienist, entering as an assistant gives you valuable experience and relationships to propel you into your future as a hygienist.