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Getting to Know a Dental Hygienist

by Jessica Carson ASEBP Consultant | January 21 2016 | 3 Comments

As a registered dental hygienist, I am used to friends avoiding asking me about work. It’s just not the kind of job that most people want to hear about in detail. That makes it difficult to get the latest info and recommendations out there. Many people still don't know what distinguishes our profession. So when I was asked to write a blog for The Sandbox, I jumped at the chance—consider yourself cornered at a dinner party. 

Here are just a few dental hygiene facts I'd love you to know and share. Think about adding one as a wellness tip at a staff meeting or in your newsletter, circulate a dental health reminder poster or incorporate it into a fun wellness challenge or staff wellness day. There are lots of ways to get the message out.

  1. Scaling is so important. It may sound awful, but it really improves gingival (gums) and periodontal (supporting tooth structures) health. The most common cause of tooth loss in adults in periodontal disease. When I scale your teeth, I am removing the tartar (hard deposits) and plaque (soft deposits) where harmful bacteria make their home. Afterwards, your gums can heal. If you had deeper pockets between your teeth and gums, your gums can now reattach to your tooth. That's the basics of how we prevent and turn around periodontal disease and it's the most rewarding part of a dental hygienist's job. If you are one of those people that is afraid to go to the dental hygienist because you are embarrassed of your poor oral health or fearful of pain, please come. Don't tell anyone but you are our favourites.
  2. It is not normal for your gums to bleed. Bleeding is a sign that your immune system is battling the bacteria in your gums. Some patients say they avoid the areas that bleed when flossing or brushing. That makes the bacteria happy; you’re leaving them alone to do their thing. When you remove the bacteria, you let your immune system take a break. Bleeding is your cue to step up your home care game or that it’s time to come and see your dental hygienist again.
  3. The frequency of your dental hygiene visits should be unique. At each dental hygiene visit your dental hygienist should assess when you should come in next. This should not just be a standard six months for everyone. It should be based on your current periodontal health, medical history, and cavity risk. Ask your dental hygienist what’s best for you. Some come every three months and others once a year. 
  4. Whether or not you get fluoride should also be unique. Fluoride remineralizes tooth structure before it has a chance to become an actual cavity. Your cavity risk is based on past or current cavities and other risk factors. Ask your dental hygienist about your cavity risk and how often professional fluoride should be applied as a result.
  5. Don’t brush your teeth right after you vomit. I’m always surprised more people don’t know this. Your teeth have just been exposed to acid so the enamel is soft and a small amount could be brushed away. Instead, rinse your mouth with water or baking soda/water to neutralize the acid.
  6. Don’t forget about us when you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.For most women, being pregnant won't change your dental hygiene routine or frequency of visits. Some women experience a few minor pregnancy-related oral symptoms that we can address together. However those with active periodontal disease face an increased risk for pre-term and low-weight babies. For those planning a pregnancy, talk to your dental hygienist to make sure your periodontal health is stable. If you haven't been seeing a hygienist regularly when you get pregnant, make sure to start.
  7. Bring your children for their first visit at one year or within 6 months of the first tooth. Most people wait until age three or four, but oral heath should be assessed sooner. This can establish good home care practices and result in early interventions to prevent tooth decay.
  8. Not everyone needs to floss. That may sound strange, and dental hygienists reading this right now are probably shaking their heads, but hear me out. Your home care should be based on your individual needs—sensing a theme here? A small number of people have great oral health but do very little to deserve it (I’m convinced these are the same people that can eat whatever they want and never work out, but I digress). Others need to brush, floss and use antiseptic rinses. There are also other products to remove plaque between your teeth that may be better suited to you. Ask your hygienist to design a home routine that optimizes your oral health. 
  9. Your dental hygiene appointments shouldn’t hurt. We have ways to numb your gums and teeth if they/you need it. Don’t just grin and bear it, let us know. We really don’t like it when it scaling causes discomfort and pain. 
  10. You probably don’t need a polish. Saved my biggest pet peeve for last. We all grew up getting our teeth polished at every dental hygiene visit. We expect it and the profession, in general, keeps doing it. The problem is, it’s not usually necessary and can actually remove a small amount of enamel. That's bad because enamel is thin and that outermost enamel is the most fluoride-rich (cavity resistant). On top of that, unlike scaling and fluoride, polishing does nothing to improve your oral health. The only people who need a polish are those with surface stains on their teeth and only those teeth with stain need the polish. Polishing does not change the overall colour of your teeth (that’s where whitening is helpful). If you love that ultra-smooth "fresh from your appointment feeling," get an electric toothbrush. Polishing everyone is old school and not in a cool, throwback way.  And if you do have a few spots of surface stain, you should only be billed for half a unit of polish!

Well, that was cathartic (and hopefully also informative)! If you learned something new, share it. Just maybe not during lunch. Dental health often falls to the wayside in our comprehensive wellness planning. Don’t let this happen! Talk to your coworkers, partner with a dental hygienist in your community and make dental health a priority. Oh, and for my sake, please tell everyone about polishing—it’s taking me forever one client at a time.

Jessica Carson

As a registered dental hygienist with a background in education, Jessica’s super skill is teaching clients about oral health. Want to talk to Jessica about something other than the latest in brushing techniques? You’re in luck! As a self-professed book nerd, she can hold her own in just about any literary territory. Just don’t ask her to serve a volleyball—she still has nightmares about junior high gym class.

HEATHER S. Peace River School Division No. 10 | January 21 2016 3:01 PM

Hi Jessica,

Very informative. I have a an upper plate, lower partial and several remaining natural teeth. I want to keep the remaining teeth - some advice please.

Anna M. ASEBP | January 21 2016 7:40 PM

This was so refreshing! Thank you for your honesty! Well done! 

Jennifer C. ASEBP | January 25 2016 2:41 PM

Agreed about the honesty!  Very appreciated, Jessica.  I think the 10 areas you comment on coud form a terrific True or False piece for wellness champions to include in their newsletter or staff intranet (Anna - over to you!).  It could even be rolled out as a 'True or False' of the day.

I appreciate these are your clinical thoughts and perhaps not everyone will agree with every statement.  But it can raise awareness with staff to have conversations about good oral health with their co-workers, and dental providers.  And I also happen to know, Jessica, that your blood runs thick with patient wellness!