What is a Dental Hygienist?

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What is a Dental Hygienist

They say “Hygiene is half the whole Health” – and they’re right!

Just like in everyday life, in medicine also, hygiene is a huge matter.

In order to maintain a certain level of hygiene, all we need is personal education.

But in Medicine, it takes so much more.

You need a whole professional education to be able to practice it as a profession.

So if you want to know more about it, let’s go together through this article.

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The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) dental hygienists are defined as oral health professionals who are responsible for preventing and treating oral diseases.

Regardless of the state in which they practice their profession, dental hygienists must be licensed by the state.

This license requires graduating from a college or university dental hygienist program, as well as passing a written national board examination and a state clinical examination.

While dental assistants’ job duties must generally be performed under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.

Dental hygienists, on the other hand, perform much of their work independently, with only some general supervision from a licensed dentist.

Dental hygienists are surely an important part of the dentist-led teams.

Their work removes a considerable burden from the dentist, this way, freeing up the dentist from minor duties, in order to let him perform more advanced procedures.

Therefore, most commonly, dental hygienists may perform many of the preventive dental procedures in an office.

These procedures can include actions such as teeth cleaning and fluoride application.

Responsibilities and Job Duties of Dental Hygienists

These state-licensed dental health professionals can perform different responsibilities and duties depending on the state in which they practice.

However, the basic services performed by dental hygienists, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), include the following:

  • Applying preventative materials to the teeth (fluorides and sealants)
  • Counseling/educating patients on oral hygiene strategies and good nutrition
  • Making impressions for study casts
  • Patient screenings, including oral health assessments, oral health history review, oral cancer screening, head and neck inspections, and taking of vital signs
  • Performing documentation and office management
  • Removing calculus and plaque from teeth
  • Taking and developing dental radiographs

Despite these job functions, state requirements may allow these dental professionals to perform other duties as well.

These duties are then performed under either direct or general supervision of a licensed dentist.

For example:

In Arizona, dental hygienists are allowed to perform similar duties such as prophylaxis, x-rays, topical anesthesia, fluoride, and pit and fissure sealants.

They are allowed to do these with the prior authorization of a licensed dentist, although the dentist does not need to be present when the services are performed.

These licensed dental professionals are also allowed to perform the following duties.

And of course, all these, under a dentist’s direct supervision:

  • Local anesthesia
  • Administration of nitrous oxide
  • Placing and removing periodontal dressings
  • Placing and removing sutures
  • Soft tissue curettage

California dental hygienists, on the other hand, are allowed to perform all of the above job duties under the general supervision of a licensed dentist.

They can do all that, with the exception of the administration of local anesthesia, the administration of nitrous oxide, and soft tissue curettage, which must be performed under direct supervision.

Some states, however, like Georgia, have set much stricter laws regarding the allowable duties of dental hygienists.

For example, dental hygienists in Georgia are not allowed to perform the following:

  • X-rays
  • Local anesthesia
  • Administration of nitrous oxide
  • Placing sutures
  • Treatment planning

They are, however, permitted to perform the following tasks under direct supervision:

  • Prophylaxis
  • Topical anesthesia
  • Fluoride treatment
  • Pit and fissures sealants
  • Root planning
  • Soft tissue curettage
  • Removing sutures
  • Placing and removing periodontal dressings

On the other end of the spectrum, dental hygienists in Kansas have a much broader list of allowable job duties in their hands.

All of these functions are permitted to be performed under the general supervision of a licensed dentist.

The only function that needs to be completed under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist in Kansas is the administration of local anesthesia.

While the only function not allowed to be performed is the placement of sutures.

Education, Training, and Licensing Requirements for Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists generally acquire their education through colleges and universities, dental schools, junior colleges, and technical schools.

In order to be state-licensed, dental hygienists are required to obtain an associate’s degree.

This degree takes about two years to complete.

The end of any dental hygiene program, however, is a clinical externship.

This internship allows students to make use of their skills and knowledge in a dental care setting through supervised patient experiences.

An associate’s degree in dental hygiene allows dental hygienists to take the state-required licensure examinations and become state-licensed, which is a requirement in all states.

Beyond an associate’s degree, dental hygienists can often pursue college or university programs that result in a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene.

After completion of an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, dental hygienists can expect to complete a bachelor’s degree program in another two years, and a master’s degree in another four years.

Although advanced degrees in dental hygiene are not required to practice dental hygiene, they may be required or preferred for careers in teaching or research or for clinical practice in schools or public health programs.

The American Dental Association’s (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) serves as the sole accrediting body for dental hygiene programs in the United States.

There are currently 330 CODA-accredited dental hygiene programs throughout the country.

Examination and Licensure for Dental Hygienists

Despite an associate’s degree in dental hygiene from an accredited institution, individuals who show an interest in becoming dental hygienists, must also successfully pass a state-authorized licensure examination, as well as the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.

Generally, the national examination assesses a candidate’s knowledge of the practice of dental assisting, while state or regional examinations are typically designed to assess a hygienist’s clinical skills.

Other typical requirements for state licensure as a dental hygienist include the successful completion of a state jurisprudence examination and CPR certification.

A state license is required to legally practice dental hygiene in the U.S.

Dental hygienists who achieve state licensure are permitted to use the acronym RDH to identify themselves as Registered Dental Hygienists.

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