If you were asked to write a list of those individuals who have the biggest impact on your health and wellbeing, you’d no doubt start with your family doctor. You’d probably also list any specialists you regularly see, like a cardiologist or psychiatrist. And, hopefully, your dentist’s name would appear somewhere on the list as well.
But what about your dental hygienist? You know, the woman or man who cleans your teeth for you every six months.
Are they not included as having a big impact on your health and wellbeing? Here are three good reasons to think again:
Your dental hygienist plays an important role in your exam
You may already realize that many serious health conditions can be diagnosed during your routine dental cleaning and examination, but did you realize that the hygienist is often just as likely to observe the warning signs as your dentist is?
It’s true. Not only does the hygienist have an opportunity to inspect your mouth while handling the cleaning and other necessary procedures, but part of their responsibility is to perform a full visual examination of the oral cavity. They’re trained to recognize anything abnormal, including signs of infection, periodontal disease, swelling, discoloration, sores, or lesions, all of which can indicate serious health conditions that may require treatment.
"You may already realize that many serious health conditions can be diagnosed during your routine dental cleaning and examination, but did you realize that the hygienist is often just as likely to observe the warning signs as your dentist is?"
While it’s true that dentists receive more formal education in the science of dentistry than hygienists do, your dentist knows that a good hygienist had to complete at least two years of college, intensive training, and meet the requirements for state licensing to work.
That's why it's so important to have the skills of both a dentist and oral hygienist implemented for the most thorough care.
They’re familiar with your medical history
Another important part of every dental hygienist’s responsibilities is to properly obtain each new patient’s medical history, review it during subsequent visits, and ensure it’s properly updated with the necessary documentation.
Along with your dentist's review of your health records, your dental hygienist will also note any abnormalities, changes, or relevant details from your family history, past procedures, or other aspects of your record. This familiarity with each patient’s unique history and record puts them in an excellent position to stay on the lookout for telltale signs of new or recurring conditions.
They’re going to notice trends that require attention
In many practices, whenever it’s practical to do so, appointments will be scheduled to ensure each patient sees the same hygienist repeatedly. This isn’t just effective customer service that can help put people at ease and improve satisfaction. It’s also a smart decision from a clinical perspective.
By allowing the dental hygienist to interact with the same patients repeatedly, not only will they become very familiar with that patient’s dental records and history, but they’ll also be familiar with the patient’s mouth. Any trends that develop over the months and years the patient is seen will be more easily spotted by a hygienist who’s worked with them numerous times, than by a hygienist or dentist who hasn’t.
This isn’t just beneficial when diagnosing serious conditions as described above, but it can also help the hygienist teach appropriate self-care practices when necessary, or recommend various tools or products that a particular patient can benefit from using.
And, positive progress is easier to note as well, leading to positive reinforcement for patients who are conscientiously caring for their oral health.
So, if you’re ever asked to list the people who have the greatest impact on your health and wellbeing, don’t forget your dental hygienist. They’re a skilled health care professional and can serve as your health advocate.
Learn more oral health tips in our blog, such as what to save on dental care, and what your dentist wishes you knew about oral health.