What Are Dental Hygienists?

Dental hygienist in a dental office looking at the camera while a dentist examines a patient

Dentists go to school for 10 years or more to learn how to properly take care of their patient’s oral health. They have numerous services that require helpers in order to perform procedures correctly. Those helpers are known as dental hygienists, and what they do can vary from state to state. Dental hygienists must go through specific training in order to perform dental cleanings and to work closely with a dentist. You will likely have a dental hygienist help you at every single dental visit. Find out what a dental hygienist is and what you can expect from a typical office visit!


What Is Dental Hygiene?

Dental hygiene is basically another name for oral health or oral hygiene. It is the practice of taking care of your teeth and the methods you use for doing so. Brushing and flossing your teeth are a major part of dental hygiene and some of the most beneficial practices you can follow for a healthy mouth. However, dental hygiene also involves fluoride use, mouthwash, your nutrition, seeing the dentist, examining your teeth and gums, and more. How well you practice oral hygiene practices coupled with visiting the dentist’s office will determine how healthy your mouth is. If you have great dental hygiene, you can expect to have a low risk for oral health diseases and conditions and vice versa. At a dental office, you will have help from both a dentist and dental hygienists to help your mouth be as healthy and free of disease as possible.


Dentists and Their Training

Did you know that it takes 10 years to become a dentist? If you are thinking about pursuing that route, make sure you are prepared for a decade of education and training. Becoming a dentist can be a very rewarding experience, even if it takes a long time. A dentist will have 10 years of training, testing, in-field practice and specialty fellowships that make up all those years of work. They will have to complete 4 years of undergraduate education. A fun fact is that those 4 years don’t even have to be medical related!


It’s important for a dentist to be exposed to all types of learning and experiences, which is why those 4 years of undergraduate training don’t have to be in health sciences. Plus, many people take several years in college to really decide what they want to do. After deciding on a dental career, dentists will have to take exams and apply to dental schools. After acceptance into a school, they will go through 4 years of dental training. This is generally followed by a couple years of specialty training or fellowships, where they work closely with another dentist to truly learn how being a dentist really is. That in-person training one-on-one with patients is what makes so many dentists exceptional.


Woman hygienist assisting a patient at the dental office

Dental Hygienists

Not all people can afford the time (and especially the debt) it takes to become a dentist. However, there are other career options that still allow people to work in a dental office. Dental hygienists are an integral part of the dental office and are vital for helping a dentist get patient work accomplished. If you have ever been to a dental office, then you have been helped during every single appointment not only by a dentist, but a dental hygienist. These are dental professionals that went to dental hygienist school to be trained as a dental professional.


Dental hygienists must have an associates or bachelors degree in Dental Hygiene. They also have to be a Registered Dental Hygienist, which requires many clinical and written board exams. Even though it doesn’t take 10 years to become a hygienist, the training and requirements are no joke. Hygienists are trained in dental hygiene (hence the name). They are a vital part of comprehensive examinations and dental cleanings. In fact, your entire cleaning is usually done by dental hygienists.


Duties in the Office

Just like many careers, dental hygienists have to continually train and test on patient procedures and how to perform dental hygiene well. Hygienists perform duties such as:

  • Taking, developing and examining dental x-rays
  • Patient screening, medical history reviews and oral cancer screenings
  • Dental charting and documenting dental changes
  • Examination of the oral cavities including head and neck inspection
  • Removing plaque and tartar buildup with both hand and drill tools from the surfaces of your teeth
  • Providing fluoride treatments after a dental cleaning
  • Applying dental sealants to patient’s tooth enamel to prevent tooth decay
  • Teaching patients about good nutrition and proper dental hygiene techniques
  • Counseling for oral hygiene habits that need improvement
  • Making impression molds and taking impressions of patient’s teeth
  • Full dental reports to the dentist before a dentist’s oral health evaluation of a patient


Male and female dental hygienists helping a child patient

Cleanings and Exams

Dental hygienists are the ones that take the time to examine each individual tooth during your comprehensive exam and cleaning. They meticulously clean each tooth and use drills and other tools to remove stuck-on plaque, tartar and to help with stain removal. They will brush, polish and floss your teeth using dental tools (many of which you only find in a dental office). If you go to your biannual dental visits, the majority of the time will be spent with dental hygienists taking care of your teeth. You will still see the dentist, however, so that he too can perform an oral cancer screening and dental examination.


When dental hygienists and/or the dentist find tooth decay via x-rays, probing and other oral health problems during your exam, they work to set you on a path to health. No matter if you are getting your teeth cleaned or having a full root canal or dental extraction, you can be sure that there are dental hygienists all throughout the office making sure you dental care goes as smoothly as possible. To learn more about our dental hygienists and how we choose them, call Family & Cosmetic Dentistry of the Rockies today at (970) 223-8425!