What is Dental Hygiene?

What is dental hygiene

Dental hygiene is a realm of dentistry not quickly described. A very broad definition is that dental hygiene involves cleaning the teeth and maintaining the health of the teeth and gums. However, dental hygiene involves much more than that limited description. A registered dental hygienist is a dental professional whose wide-ranging tasks function to improve or maintain oral health.  Those dental hygienists working for periodontal specialists often have an advanced training in the treatment of and care for periodontal disease. 

The term dental hygiene is not limited to what we do in the dental office. It also encompasses what you do at home to care for your teeth and gums. Also called oral hygiene, your home care plays an essential role in the state of your oral health.

What does a Dental Hygienist Do?

A dental hygienist does much more than just clean teeth. Many people spend more time with the dental hygienist than with their dentist, and this relationship is important to the patient’s comfort, consistency, and compliance with recommended dental care.

Professional Teeth Cleanings

During a professional teeth cleaning, your dental hygienist removes all of the bacterial buildup from the teeth and gums. The buildup of bacteria occurs in two forms: Soft plaque accumulation and deposits of hard tartar (also called calculus). This buildup can be easy to remove from the exposed portion of each tooth or more difficult to access underneath the gums. 

Because this buildup is the cause of periodontal disease, your hygienist’s goal is to give you a clean slate at each professional teeth cleaning visit. This removes the toxins the bacteria produce and gives your body a chance to heal from the inflammatory disease. It is impossible to heal from gum disease without consistent professional teeth cleanings.

Dental Images

Closely monitoring the health of the teeth and gums requires dental x-rays or other images taken at regular intervals. To the naked eye, the jawbone is invisible — it’s underneath the gums. A dental x-ray, however, shows the jawbone clearly, allowing your dentist to evaluate its health and attachment to each tooth.  An x-ray often reveals a periodontal condition that the external appearance hides. 

Three-dimensional images produced by cone beam computed tomography or CBCT, give a three-dimensional view of the bone attachment around each tooth. This technology helps your specialist find and treat isolated areas of bone loss.

Risk Assessment

A dental hygienist is able to evaluate your gum health and assess your risk for various dental diseases. Trained to look for red flags or suspicious areas, your hygienist catches signs that indicate you’re at high risk for periodontal disease or cavities. As with most diseases, early detection gives you the best chance of successful treatment. Finding your specific risk areas also helps us customize your preventive recommendations.

Preventive Dentistry

Dental hygienists perform multiple procedures to prevent dental disease, professional teeth cleanings being the most common and most important. The preventive treatment recommended for you is based on your risk assessment. If you have a high risk for gum disease, one preventive option is to have your professional teeth cleanings on a more frequent basis. A dental hygienist may also place antibiotic medication directly into areas of progressive periodontal disease.

If you happen to have a high risk for developing new cavities, your dental hygienist can place dental sealants on the back teeth to prevent bacteria from collecting in the deep pits and grooves. They may also apply a professional fluoride treatment to strengthen and harden the enamel on your teeth and make them more resistant to cavities.

Patient Education

We believe that the better you understand your specific risk areas and the disease processes associated with them, the better you will be able to prevent future dental disease.  Because each human being is unique, each person needs to know different information about their specific dental care. Some people require accessory tools (in addition to traditional toothbrush and floss) to properly clean their teeth. Our hygienists teach you how to reach areas you may have been missing in your home care. 

Maintenance of Gum Health

For patients with past periodontal disease, maintaining the health of the gums is impossible without the work of a dental hygienist. Preventing a recurrence of gum disease requires consistent professional teeth cleanings, and the interval of these varies from person to person. Certain factors, like smoking, diabetes, or a genetic predisposition, raise your risk level and require more frequent intervention in order to stay as healthy as possible.

Your hygienist’s detailed knowledge of the state of your teeth and gums makes them the very best person to monitor and maintain their health.


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