Its more than just a scale and polish
I’ve been a hygienist for 31 years now, I’ve worked all over the North West in NHS Private and referral practices, so I feel I’ve earned the right to call myself an experienced clinician.
When I first worked in dentistry, things were very different; we were lucky if we had access to an ultrasonic scaler and most of our work was carried out with hand instruments, scraping away at stains and tartar on teeth.
The appointments were so short only brief messages of oral health advice could be given and too much of this was to rely on mouthwash to supplement brushing. Fast forward to today and we now have a selection of methods to clean teeth from ultrasonics to powder delivery systems and even the humble hand scalers for when necessary.
The design technology has progressed as our understanding of dental disease and oral health has evolved. We now know that mouthwash doesn’t really penetrate the thick, sticky plaque biofilm. We know that toothbrushing alone is not enough for most people and regular interdental cleaning is required to prevent periodontal and peri implant diseases.
Looking back, technology has transformed dentistry. We now have CBCT scanners; cameras that can detect dental decay and inflammation; and an impression machine that can use light images to create an impression of teeth rather than the cold wet impression materials that we have used previously.
The most important tool I have is my ability to communicate with my patients. What I do in the way of hygienist treatment is secondary to any individual’s homecare. If we can’t get the daily cleaning at home to a satisfactory level then most treatment will produce at best a reduced outcome or at worst a failure.
My role is to take time to get to know my patients and understand what their values, goals and barriers are. It’s easy to dictate to patients what they should be doing and scold them if they don’t, but this rarely produces a positive behaviour change. Like a personal trainer, I need to understand what intrinsic motivation each patient has and work together as a team to attain the best results possible.
If an individual chooses not to improve his/her oral hygiene, I will respect this, as long as they understand the implications of doing so and accept responsibility for it.
Dental hygienists, like nurse practitioners have gradually been allowed to take on more tasks like administering local anaesthetic, remove sutures, take x-rays, oral cancer screening, teeth whitening (under prescription), take impressions and more recently diagnose (within our scope of practice). And, these are only some of our duties.
Our main role has always been prevention, so our initial treatment, maintenance care and close monitoring of inflammation in patients with periodontal disease, makes up a large part of our dailly routine.
I just love being a professional who plays a big part in the team who take care of our patients’ treatment.