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What is a Dental Hygienist?

Dental hygienists clean teeth and teach clients how to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Did you know that you have eight to twelve more teeth as an adult than as a kid? Until you reach about six years old, you have 20 primary or "baby" teeth. Then, they start falling out (and the tooth fairy comes) and are replaced with adult teeth. Most adults have all 28 permanent teeth by their late teens. Then, around age 20, four more teeth usually come in – the "wisdom teeth." Hopefully before this happens you've been to the dentist a few times already! Chances are, you started getting dental check-ups as a young child. Perhaps you've been going to the same one for years. This means that you probably know your hygienist well. Dental hygienists are a very important part of your dental care. You may even know your hygienist more than your dentist!

Dental hygienists discuss general health issues with patients and update dental charts. They inspect patients' teeth for deposits and decay, and look for any shrinkage or disease in the gums. They look to see if the gums and lymph nodes under the chin show any swelling or other signs of cancer. When x-rays need updating, or when there are new patients, hygienists take x-rays. They take great care to position the camera at different angles around the head and mouth. They also develop film for dentists to use as they diagnose problems and plan treatments.

Hygienists use dental instruments to clean plaque and various stains from teeth, in preparation for the dentist. Part of that preparation may include applying numbing agents to a patient's gums. They do this so the dentist may administer an injection with the least amount of discomfort to the client. Hygienists also apply fluoride to children's teeth.

Finally, dental hygienists perform finish work on certain procedures so the dentist can go on to the next patient. Examples include removing excess cement from tooth surfaces or polishing fillings. They report what work they do to the dentist, including any other concerns they may find. They counsel clients about dental health. They may teach dental health education for school children and other members of the community.


GFC MSU Dental Clinic 

Phone: (406) 771-4364