Dental Hygienist Duties: A Checklist

Dental Hygienists are the cornerstone of a dental office’s day-to-day operation. Every role in a dental office is important, but the dental hygienist is the person who provides the care and maintenance services for a patient’s mouth for the largest percentage of daily appointments.

What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?

Every dental office has its own set of duties and responsibilities for staff roles. However, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a common set of duties that are typical for the Dental Hygienist role, including:

“Administer oral hygiene care to patients. Assess patient oral hygiene problems or needs and maintain health records. Advise patients on oral health maintenance and disease prevention. May provide advanced care such as providing fluoride treatment or administering topical anesthesia.”

Typical Duties Of A Dental Hygienist

Again, not every dental office is the same, but most will have a similar list of duties that are common for the Dental Hygienist to perform, including:

  • Remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth to prevent dental caries
  • Apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
  • Take and develop dental x rays to look for any signs of dental disease
  • Review patient records before the appointment to understand the patient history and customize their visit as needed
  • Assess and document patient’s current dental health for dentist review
  • Record patient care performed and recommend treatment plans
  • Communicate at-home hygiene recommendations to the patient, including brushing techniques, selecting the right toothbrush or floss, flossing habits, and different types of mouthwash
  • Check for underlying conditions that could degenerate into dental disease if not caught early such as mouth cancer
Tips For Being A Successful Dental Hygienist

The list of duties above spells out the activities a dental hygienist performs, but that doesn’t mean the role is a good fit for the career path that fits you. If you’re considering enrolling in a certification program to learn the skills of the trade, consider the people most successful in the role who have most or all of the following attributes.

  • Excellent eye-hand coordination. The human mouth is a very small space and a tooth has an even smaller surface area, so make sure you’re comfortable making small, detailed movements with your hands and have eyesight sharp enough to notice small details.
  • Meticulous observation and reporting skills. A great dental hygienist notices the little things about a patient’s mouth that could lead to big things if left untreated. You’ll need a keen eye to spot the little things and report them accurately in patients’ notes.
  • Comfortable working in busy environments. A thriving dental office can be hectic, especially when every appointment needs to run according to schedule. A great dental hygienist takes the stress in stride and keeps a high energy level all day long.
  • Able to see the patients’ point of view. Patients aren’t always the best communicators, and so a great dental hygienist will pay attention to what the patient says and doesn’t say. That means picking up on body language during a patient interview and reading patient reactions during their procedure. If the patient says everything feels great but they wince when you touch a molar, you have to pick up on what the patient is feeling and get to the root of the problem.
  • Communicate as a dentist but speak as a patient. When a patient needs to be educated about their at-home care and what changes need to be made, it’s easy for a patient to tune out if the way that education is delivered sounds like technical jargon that only makes sense to an experienced dentist. Good communication involves tailoring your message to make the most sense to your audience, and a great dental hygienist will adjust the education to make it easy for a patient to absorb.
  • Love what you do. A great dental hygienist loves what they do. Not every day will be a picnic, and every office has its ups and downs. If you’re passionate about the work and love what you do, it’s easier to get through the rough patches and the probability of burnout drops dramatically.

If the duties sound interesting and the attributes describe you perfectly, the next step is to seek out information about Dental Hygiene programs near you. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) has a database of programs to get started. Check the list out to find one that works for you.

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