The relationship between a dentist and a registered dental hygienist (RDH) is a unique one in the dental and health care field. Here are some of the tasks a dental hygienist might be required to complete when taking care of a patient:
- Make sure all the tools are sterile before each procedure
- Place a gown and/or paper towel around the neck of the patient
- Take dental X-rays that the dentist will then review
- Assist the dentist when he or she is performing complicated procedures
- Be knowledgeable in the use of tools the dentist will need for specific types of work
- Watch the patient closely during any procedure to make sure he or she is comfortable and not in pain
- Clean up any extraneous fluids or mess on the patient during a procedure
- Provide adequate amounts of water for the patient to rinse out his or her mouth, as necessary
- Sterilize all the tools after the procedure
- Clean the entire area after the patient leaves to prepare for the next patient.
A Valuable Assistant
The RDH will also work side by side with a dentist when performing more complicated procedures. A dental hygienist might be in charge of handling the tools and equipment the dentist requires, such as topical gels to desensitize gums and dosages of Novocaine. Individuals in the RDH role will clean any of the tools that the dentist is using, including those used to clean between the teeth and gums to remove plaque. They also will need to make sure that the patient is properly hydrated during a procedure in addition to suctioning out any debris that the dentist has removed from the surface of the teeth.
Some dental hygienists may handle routine dental care, such as cleanings, on their own. This would involve using a water spray tool (often electronic) that removes plaque and tartar from a patient's teeth, along with a hand scraper to provide a more thorough cleaning. Gums are examined, fluoride might be applied for children, and teeth are often flossed. Finally, the RDH would polish a patient's teeth near the end of the visit. By having the RDH complete this type of crucial work, dentists are able to concentrate on patients that require more complicated dental procedures.