A dental hygienist is a dental health specialist whose primary concern is the prevention of oral and systemic disease, nonsurgical periodontal therapy, and maintenance of dental health. Dental hygienists assess a patient’s condition in order to offer patient-specific preventative and educational services to promote behavioral changes that maintain good oral health. The major role of a dental hygienist is to perform periodontal therapy which includes prophylaxis (a professional dental, preventive cleaning), periodontal charting, periodontal scaling and root planing, and periodontal maintenance procedures for patients with ongoing periodontal disease.
Specific duties also include the taking and development of intraoral radiographs, application of dental sealants, topical fluoride, and dental impressions for the construction of study casts and mouth guards.
The minimum education required for dental hygienist licensure is two academic years of college in an accredited dental hygiene program with an associate degree in dental hygiene. Four-year programs are also offered with a bachelor’s of science degree awarded. The registered dental hygienist (RDH) must then successfully complete the written and practical examinations required by the California or the Western Regional Examining Board (WREB) to practice in California. Higher education is available via several Masters of Dental Hygiene programs within the state of California.
In California, a dental hygienist must work under the general supervision of a licensed dentist and may be employed in a variety of dental settings to include independent, private, or specialist practices in the public health area. Dental hygienists may also serve as researchers. A hygienist may also serve as an educator in dental hygiene programs if he or she has a bachelor’s degree and above.
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