A dental hygienist has an interest in the field of oral hygiene and works with patients through routine oral hygiene instruction and cleaning procedures to promote good oral health. In many situations, a hygienist is key in the prevention and cure of periodontal disease (the disease which destroys tooth attachment tissue, causing teeth to become loose and eventually fall out if left untreated).
A dental hygienist provides a private service, one that is not covered under the NHS, and works from a prescription given by a dentist. A dental hygienist should expect to see anywhere between 10 to 15 patients a day depending on how busy the practice is (and therefore how many prescriptions they have) and how long they need which each patient. Most patients are recommended to visit their hygienist either annually or bi-annually for a half-hour appointment, though patients recovering from periodontal disease are advised to see their hygienist every 3 to 4 months.
One of the main roles of a dental hygienist to perform a scale and polish which removes the plaque and calculus from teeth to help the gums remain healthy. In more advanced cases, a particular form of treatment known as root surface debridement is necessary; this sees the hygienist remove plaque deposits and bacteria from underneath the gum and along the roots of the teeth. They are also the main resource when it comes to instruction on how to maintain good oral health and are expected to teach the different methods of oral hygiene, from tooth brushing to various forms of interdental cleaning.
Dental hygienists can also be trained to administer local anaesthetic. This can be necessary when periodontal disease is causing the gums to be too painful to clean without some form of intervention. Hygienists can also give local anaesthetic for patients who are about to see the dentist.
There are a large number of opportunities in dental hygiene for continuing professional development; courses are readily available, allowing dental hygienists to constantly further their knowledge and gain further qualifications if desired. With the appropriate qualification, dental hygienists are able to take dental x-rays to help them assess the degree of bone loss associated with periodontal disease in particular situations.
There are two main ways to become a dental hygienist: either by applying to university or college for a two-year full-time dental hygiene course, having gained 5 A-C grade GCSEs and two A-levels of any grade and subject, or by first training as a dental nurse at college (either full or part-time) and using the relevant national certificate or NVQ gained to apply to the dental hygiene course.