October is National Dental Hygiene Month! To celebrate, we sat down with our Director of Dental Hygiene and Clinical Support, Andrea Edelen, to discuss the reasons the hygienist is such an important member of the dental office.
We know hygienists clean teeth. What else do they do as part of their work that many may not realize?
Although hygienists, like all dental team members, wear many hats in the practice, they have three main roles when it comes to patient care: Preventive Therapist, Periodontal Therapist and Treatment Advocate. As Preventive Therapists, hygienists perform screenings and assessments, and make customized recommendations based on individual patient risks. We screen for and monitor conditions such as hypertension, oral cancer and sleep apnea. As Periodontal Therapists, hygienists assess, treat and maintain all forms of gum disease. Hygienists promote overall dental health as Treatment Advocates by educating patients on the importance of restorative treatment, comprehensive dental care and wellness.
In what ways do hygienists influence the patient’s overall experience with the practice?
A majority of patients spend more time with their hygienist than anyone else in the practice. Hygienists impact the patient experience through the relationships that they build with patients and teammates. Relationships that are built with strong personal connections and warm communication promote exceptional experiences.
How does the hygienist contribute to the patient’s treatment plan?
Dental hygienists have a crucial role as treatment advocates by helping patients understand their treatment options. They use visuals such as photos and models to educate patients. In addition to that, they discuss the solutions that the dentist recommends as well as the potential outcomes of not accepting dental treatment.
Are you seeing any significant trends happening in dental hygiene today?
Yes! The oral systemic link has transitioned into mainstream media and patients are approaching us about how their dental health is related to their overall health. Dental technology is continuing to advance, which is extremely exciting.
How has dental hygiene changed as a result of COVID-19? What can patients expect going forward?
We have developed and implemented a highly effective COVID-19 protocol to keep our patients and team members safe. New processes are in place that include modifications to the check-in and check-out process and symptom and temperature screenings for patients and team members. Patients may notice that their hygienist has additional PPE to add a higher level of protection, including N95 masks and/or face shields. We are also using a stronger suction that reduces the amount of aerosols released during procedures. This powerful suction may feel and sound different to patients.
It’s important to keep in mind that dentistry has a long history of successfully dealing with communicable diseases. Our clinical teams were already well experienced in protecting themselves and our patients, so the extra protocols we’ve put in place only increase that level of safety. Our team members also receive the same pre-screening questions and temperature checks when they come to work each day for additional protection. We want our patients to feel comfortable coming to our practices and hope they understand that disinfection and safety have always been our priorities.
Hygienists have always focused on how oral health supports overall health and immunity but there is an increased awareness due to COVID-19. Now more than ever, we remain committed to pursuing additional strategies to reduce risk and continue the important work of delivering necessary dental care to our patients.
Are you due for your next hygiene visit? We’d love to see your smile!