Along with the dentist, the dental hygienist is a healthcare professional who is able to offer services after obtaining the proper licensing or credentials from the appropriate jurisdiction. In most cases, hygienists will work as part of a team located at a dentist’s office, performing certain tasks that involve direct patient care.
It is important to note that, in nearly all locations, a dental hygienist has to obtain formal training and education before it is possible to be licensed. Generally, most jurisdictions require at least a two year degree in dental hygiene, as well as a number of science related courses as part of the program. A hygienist will usually have taken courses that provide background in oral anatomy, pharmacology, nutrition, and periodontology. Advanced education, involving four to six years of study, is growing in popularity. With advanced training, a student is able to seek a broader range of certification to allow him or her to engage in more procedures related to dental care.
Perhaps the single most common group of tasks associated with the profession involves preventive dental care. Teeth cleaning is often taken care of by the dental hygienist. Along with cleaning, the hygienist often engages in sealings, root planing, and in educating then patient in general oral hygiene. In some places, it has become common in dentistry clinics for the hygienist to handle teeth bleaching procedures as well.
This dental professional may also administer local anesthesia. While some locations limit the types of anesthesia that may be administered by a hygienist, this appears to be changing as more support tasks are relegated from the dentist to the hygienist. This allows the dentist time to check on other patients and prepare for the procedure as the anesthesia is taking effect.
For many of the tasks that a dental hygienist is authorized to perform, there is no need for supervision by a dentist. In other situations, local regulations may require at least partial supervision. As more hygienists opt for higher degrees of certification, however, this is changing. One example is in the administration of a few specified types of fillings, which were once considered the province of the dentist only. Expanding the range of responsibilities that a hygienist may provide as part of the dentist office staff often means patients are seen and treated more quickly than in times past.