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What is the difference between having your teeth cleaned by a dentist and a dental hygienist?

What is the difference between having your teeth cleaned by a dentist and a dental hygienist?


The team at Smile Solutions thrives to provide a multidisciplinary approach to dental care. All practitioners including dentists, hygienists and specialists work together to ensure the patient’s oral health goals are achieved. The majority of our patients visit their dental hygienist on a biannual basis, and this might pose the following question: ‘What is the difference between a dentist and a hygienist?’

Dental Hygienists 

Dental Hygienists are oral health practitioners with a strong emphasis on gum health. They aim to empower patients to maintain a healthy oral environment, which is vital to ensure a sound general health. They are valued members of the dental team who work together with dentists or specialist to: 1) Prevent gum disease, 2) Diagnose and treat gum disease, 3) Achieve a stable gum health. 

Procedures completed by a dental hygienist:

  • Cleaning teeth
    • Also known as 1) scale and clean or 2) debridement
    • It involves removing plaque, calculus (also colloquially referred to as tartar) and stains from teeth using ultrasonic and hand instruments. 
  • Assessing gum health. This involves:
    • Measuring and recording mobility, pocket depths and bleeding points around every single tooth. 
    • Measuring and recording any recession areas, where the gum level may have reduced
  • Administering fluoride treatments 
  • Providing comprehensive oral hygiene instructions 
    • Recommendations on brushing and flossing techniques 
    • Recommendations for suitable products to use as part of the oral hygiene regimen 
  • Assessing patients for pain or dental concerns to report to the dentist 
  • Discussing all findings with the patient and formulating a periodontal treatment plan to maintain optimum gum health 

Dentists

Dentists and dental hygienists complete different degrees and therefore have different qualifications. Dentists have a much broader scope of practice and their university training is 4-5 years long depending on their educational pathway: undergraduate pathway: 5 years and post-graduate pathway: 4 years. Whereas dental hygienist may complete either a 2 year advanced diploma or a 3 year bachelors degree to qualify. 

Dentists are also able to provide more specialised and complex treatments such as:

  • fillings (also known as restorations)
  • Crowns, bridges and veneers
  • Root canals
  • Extractions
  • Dentures
  • Prescribing medications
  • Taking and interpreting radiographs or x-rays. 

Patients are encouraged to see a dentist first for a comprehensive oral examination which involves:

  • Reviewing the patient’s medical history- taking note of any allergies, medications, medical conditions, pregnancy status, smoking status 
  • Finding out the patient’s oral health goals and addressing the patient’s main concerns
  • Assessing every single tooth individually for any sign of decay, fractures or other anomalies 
  • Assessing gum health for signs of gum disease 
  • Taking x-rays to assess bone health and detect dental decay which may not be visible directly in the mouth but present between the teeth 
  • Discussing all findings with the patient 
  • Formulating a comprehensive treatment plan with a multidisciplinary approach which may involve other practitioners including specialists or hygienists and finally scheduling any appointment necessary accordingly 

The dentist helps to lead the oral health team and coordinates the treatment plan with the different practitioners involved to ensure a high standard of care for the patient. 

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