Dental hygienists (oral hygienists) are concerned with the promotion of oral health and the prevention of dental disease. They remove stains and tartar from teeth and polish them. They apply decay-preventing agents to teeth, insert temporary fillings and take impressions and castings of study models. They give patients information about good home dental care and healthy nutritional practices.
Dental hygienists perform diagnostic tests for interpretation by the dentist, such as intra-oral and extra-oral X-rays. They assist dentists during dental operations.
Responsibilities of the job include providing dental health education about tooth care and diet, removing plaque and calculus by scaling and polishing teeth, taking impressions and/or dental radiographs of teeth, applying prophylactic/antibacterial materials, fissure sealants and topical fluorides to help prevent tooth decay, carrying out screening and monitoring procedures, treating and helping to prevent gum disease, ensuring that sterile conditions are maintained. They offer advice and encouragement to patients, work closely with and under the instruction of dentists using a range of dental instruments and need to keep up-to-date with new developments within the profession maintaining patient dental records.
Dental hygienists are professional health educators with their own consulting rooms, who work under the supervision of dentists in private practices, or for the Department of Health in hospitals, clinics or schools, where they may also teach in dental hygiene programmes.
Consulting rooms are usually modern, airy and well equipped. Part of the work is sometimes done in operating theatres. If a dental hygienist works for a government health department, the job may include a certain amount of travelling to surrounding schools and institutions.
Key skills are good eyesight and manual dexterity skills, and the ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time. Having a mature, friendly, confident and caring manner is important, as is the possession of appropriate personal characteristics such as effective interpersonal, communication, teamworking and listening skills.