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Who is the Dental Hygienist?

  • Member of the oral health care profession who provides treatment to prevent and control dental caries (cavities) and periodontal diseases (gum diseases)
  • Instructs patients on methods to improve and maintain optimal oral health
  • Uses the "RDH" designation which stands for Registered Dental Hygienist and assures patients that he or she has completed a nationally accredited dental hygiene education program
  • Passed a state or regional clinical examination and a national written examination
  • Received a state license to provide preventive oral health care services and patient education

What Do Dental Hygienists Do?

Since each state has its own specific regulations, the range of services performed by dental hygienists varies from one state to another.  Patient care services performed by dental hygienists may include:

  • Monitoring procedures - review of the patient's health history, dental charting, oral analysis, taking and recording blood pressure, and evaluation of dental hygiene treatment
  • Exposing, processing, and interpreting dental x-rays
  • Removing plaque and calculus (soft and hard deposits) from above and below the gum line of the teeth
  • Providing non-surgical treatment of periodontal (gum) diseases
  • Applying cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth
  • Applying therapeutic agents for the treatment of periodontal diseases
  • Teaching patients proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums
  • Counseling patients about disease control and developing individualized at-home oral hygiene programs
  • Counseling patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health
  • Providing local anesthesia

In addition, dental hygienists develop, conduct, and manage programs in community, public health, private health care, and managed care settings.

What is a Professional Dental Hygienist?

An oral healthcare practitioner who utilizes critical thinking and an evidence-based approach to:

  • Practice as an intra and interprofessional health provider;
  • Practice as a preventive specialist;
  • Make a difference in health and quality of life of the patients he or she serves;
  • Uphold responsibility and contribute to the patient, to the community, to the profession, to the body of knowledge, and to self.

Where Do Dental Hygienists Work?

As clinical practitioners

  • General dental practices
  • Dental practices that specialize, such as periodontal, pediatric dentistry, and orthodontic practices
  • Community or public health clinics
  • Hospital dental clinics

As educators, researchers, administrators, managers, preventive program developers, consumer advocates, dental sales representatives and consultants

  • Community dental programs
  • Dental public health programs
  • Private health care programs
  • Managed care settings
  • Industry

Some of this information has been reproduced from the ADHA publication "Some Important Facts About the Dental Hygienist." For more info about the Dental Hygiene Profession, visit the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

page last updated 1/3/2017 2:19 PM