Common Dental Care Questions About Hygienists & Dental Therapists

Common Dental Care Questions About Hygienists

What is a dental hygienist/therapist?

Dental hygienists and therapists are specially trained to work with the dentist to give care to patients. They play an important part in dental health care and are mainly concerned with preventive dental health and treating gum disease — showing you correct home care and helping to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

What is the hygienist’s/therapist role in the practice?

The hygienist’s main work is to prevent and treat gum disease. This includes professionally cleaning your teeth by removing plaque and tartar (usually called a ‘scale and polish’ or prophylaxis). However, perhaps their most important role is showing you the best way to keep your teeth free of plaque. Plaque is a sticky coating that forms constantly on your teeth. Hygienists also give advice about diet and about preventing tooth decay. The hygienist will work with your dental team to give you care that is tailored to your needs. A therapist will carry out the work of a hygienist but will also perform routine restorations on children and adults and extract baby teeth in children using a local anaesthetic in the mouth.

Can a hygienist/therapist do anything else?

Dental hygienists and therapists can also take dental x-rays. The dentist will use these to help diagnose problems and decide on the possible treatment. Dental hygienists/therapists can also place fissure sealants, apply fluoride varnishes and administer fluoride treatments. Other procedures may be carried out by dental hygienists/therapist depending on the laws that apply where they work. Tooth whitening is also often carried out by the dental hygienist/therapist, under a prescription from your dentist.

Does every Dental practice have a hygienist/therapist?

Not all practices are lucky enough to have a hygienist and a therapist. However, more of them now offer this as part of the service to patients. Hygienists/Therapists see patients directly, under the prescription of a dentist, or can see them independently.

Why is Hygiene treatment important?

Regular professional cleaning to remove plaque and tartar, combined with looking after your teeth and gums properly at home, will help keep your mouth healthy. A clean and healthy mouth will improve your appearance, help you to keep your teeth and give you fresh breath.

Can a hygienist/therapist help prevent dental disease?

This is what the training of the hygienist and therapist is all about. They will carefully remove the hard deposits of tartar (or ‘calculus’) that build up on the teeth and teach you how to prevent them coming back. This will do a lot to slow the progress of gum disease. By talking to you about your diet, and recommending other preventive measures, the hygienist/therapist can help you keep to a routine that will slow down tooth decay. Regular visits and advice will help build your confidence in keeping your mouth healthy.

What other help can adults get?

Adults who have a lot of decay can benefit from having fluoride applied to their teeth. They can also have anti-bacterial gels and solutions applied under the gum to kill the bacteria causing gum disease.

Another very important part of the hygienist’s work is showing you and telling you how to look after your mouth at home. The hygienist may also suggest that you give up smoking. Research has shown that smokers have more gum disease and lose more teeth than non-smokers. Your hygienist will be able to advise you on different ways of giving up smoking. They can also give you special advice about home care if you have dental implants or an orthodontic appliance (‘brace’).

What help is there for children?

Children can benefit from having their teeth polished and plaque removed. The hygienist can also apply fluoride treatments and varnishes to help prevent decay. The permanent (or ‘adult’) back teeth can also benefit from having the biting surfaces sealed. This is done by applying a special plastic coating to the biting surface soon after the teeth appear. For more information see our leaflet ‘Tell me about Pit and fissure sealants’.

Why doesn’t the dentist do this work?

Some dentists will do this type of work themselves. However, many now realise that the hygienist/therapist has been specially trained to carry out scaling and polishing and can spend more time with you. The hygienist is also expert at teaching you how to look after your teeth and gums. Often the hygienist will spend a number of appointments getting your gums healthy, and ready for the dental team to restore the teeth with crowns and fillings.

Will the treatment hurt?
Scaling and polishing is usually pain-free. However, if you do have any discomfort the hygienist can use anaesthetic creams, or give you some local anaesthetic. It is important that you let the hygienist know at the time so they can help with your pain.

Is the treatment expensive?

Costs of treatment with a dental hygienist will vary depending on what is being done, and from practice to practice. It is important to find out the cost before you start, by getting a written quotation.

What can I do to help the hygienist?

You can do a lot to help yourself and the hygienist, as you are the one who looks after your mouth in between visits to the practice. Your hygienist will have shown you how to remove plaque with a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.

They will also have shown you how to clean between your teeth with ‘interdental’ brushes, floss or tape. There are many oral care products you can get, including specialist kinds of toothpaste, electric or ‘power’ toothbrushes, and mouthwashes. Your hygienist will recommend those that are best for you.

We recommend that you follow three simple steps to help keep your teeth and gums healthy:

• brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste.

• cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.

• visit your dental team regularly, as often as they recommend.

Cutting down the amount of sugar in your diet, and the number of times that you eat during the day can help to reduce decay. Your hygienist/therapist can help you by looking at your decay problem and your diet, and by making some recommendations for you to consider.

Chewing sugar-free gum for 10 minutes after meals can also help to prevent tooth decay. Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, which cancels out the acid produced in your mouth after drinking and eating.


Thank you for reading and we hope that the above information was useful to you. If you would like to book an appointment with us about any of the above then please call us on 01228 521889 or visit our contact page to speak with a member of our dental team for advice.

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