What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?
My visit with the dental hygienist was both educational and informative. Although I have been to the dentist many times in my life, this experience was very different. Usually, I sit in the chair and talk briefly with the dental hygienist. She then gets to work cleaning my teeth. Soon enough, my appointment is over, and I am on my way out with a new toothbrush in hand, clean teeth, and a fresh smile.
This visit was quite different, there was much more thought and visualization that went into it. Upon walking in, I was a bit nervous. I was looking around and trying to take everything in, something that I had never done before at the dentist.
The office that I observed in was one that I am familiar with. This was the same pediatric dental office that I went to as a child. Although the office still looked the same, the dentist and the hygienists that I use to see are no longer there. This dental practice is now a group practice consisting of two dentists that work in the office. The office specializes in pediatric dentistry, however they also do see some adults. Because this is an older office, and has yet to be updated, all of the dental charting is still being written. Also, all of the x-rays that are done are conventional. The secretary at the office is the one who schedules the appointments and this is the only thing that is actually done on the computer in this office.
Sue, the dental hygienist that I shadowed, has been a hygienist for twenty-eight years and is a graduate of Bristol Community College. There are a total of two dental hygienists that work at this office. Sue, the hygienist that I shadowed works three to four days a week, eight-hour days. She sees approximately sixteen children in an eight-hour day. This is one patient every thirty minutes for children, however if she has an adult patient she will have approximately forty-five minutes. This, I found out makes for quite a busy day.
The first thing that Sue introduced me to was how the instruments are cleaned. The instruments are sterilized prior to and after each use. The instruments after each use are first placed in an ultrasonic cleaner machine, which is used to shake up and get the debris off of the instruments per the hygienist. Next, the instruments are placed into a bag in the autoclave machine for thirty minutes. This steams the instruments under pressure to sterilize them. When they are sterile the dot on the bag changes color to ensure that they have been sterilized.
After learning how the instruments were sterilized, the first patient arrived. When the patient sat in the chair, the dental hygienist began talking to the child and his mom, making them feel comfortable. She then began to talk to me about positioning. Although she has been practicing dental hygiene for many years, she does not have any aches or pains because she practices good body mechanics while working. She showed me and talked to me about how important it is to sit up straight and to have the patient turn his or her head toward you instead of you bending and leaning toward the patient. Next, I was able to observe the intra oral exam. Sue’s favorite instrument is the anterior scalar. I observed her scaling or cleaning the dental biofilm off of the child’s teeth. After she finished with the scaling, brushing, and flossing, the child was brought into another room and x-rays were taken of his teeth. We were able to visualize the roots of his teeth from the x-rays. After the x-rays were taken, a fluoride treatment was applied to the child’s teeth. The fluoride was “painted” on each tooth with a small brush. Home care instruction was done with this child and his mom as well as all of the other children that were seen. All of the children were explained the importance of brushing and flossing their teeth.
After the first patient left, and after each patient is finished, the hygiene area needs to be cleaned and then set up for the next patient. The chair, tray, instruments, etc. all need to cleaned/sterilized. The set up and break down of the hygiene rooms in this office were done by both the dental hygienists and the dental assistants. They all work together as a team.
This office does apply sealants, however I was not able to observe any being done in the time that I was in the office. During my visit with the hygienist, she only saw children, no adults. I was able to observe the treatment, cleaning, and x-rays of many children. The hygienist did not use the intra oral camera. She stated that this is a tool that the dentist mainly uses.
I would definitely recommend that someone interested in becoming a dental hygienist observe in an office before applying to dental hygiene school. This observation gives one a good feel for the profession. It also helps one to decide if this is the job that they would like to do or not do for a living prior to applying. This experience ensured that I want to become a dental hygienist. I enjoyed my experience observing the hygienist, and this time I walked out of the office with a new appreciation for all that the dental hygienist does.