Every registered dental hygienist I’ve met during my career thinks of their work as a calling rather than just a job. They are caring, compassionate, highly educated professionals who absolutely love meeting people and guiding them to their best health.
Removing tartar and plaque buildup is an essential part of their work; however, hygienists are more than just teeth cleaners; they’re the first line of defense against serious health problems.
At your routine visits, they perform the following important tasks:
• Screen for oral cancer and infection. They check the floor of the mouth, soft tissue, and tongue for cancerous lesions as well as ulcers and sores that might eventually cause pain. Swelling can indicate infection, and treatment is key to preventing it from entering your bloodstream and causing more serious issues.
• Take X-rays to detect decay, bone strength, cysts, and abscesses. While your hygienist and dentist are highly trained, the naked eye can’t see the entire picture. Low radiation, digital X-rays enable them to see cavities and abscesses that might lie under the bone. When left unchecked, decay begins to erode teeth, resulting in more involved problems, like cracks, tooth loss, and root canals.
• Check for tooth fractures, leaky fillings, and loose and shifting teeth. If fractures or leaks exist between your tooth and a filling, saliva, food, and bacteria can travel within the tooth, breeding bacteria that causes decay.
• Use special equipment to clean beneath the gumline. If plaque, the soft bacteria that can be brushed away with a toothbrush, hardens and mineralizes, it becomes tartar and causes gum inflammation. That swelling, often accompanied by bleeding, can develop into periodontal disease, which leads to bone and ligament loss and eventually the loss of teeth.
• Check bite function, including TMJ discomfort. Dental hygienists can determine if you might be clenching or grinding your teeth, often linked to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. They and your dentist have solutions to improve your bite and eliminate headaches or pain.
• Polish and remineralize the teeth. This removes surface staining, leaving teeth shiny and smooth, while strengthening your enamel.
• Check for healthy gums. The condition of your teeth and gums offers significant insight into your overall health, including the presence of systemic disease. Studies show that elevated bacteria in your mouth can affect the progress of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and bacterial pneumonia.
Remember, your hygienist is not just cleaning your teeth, they’re on a mission to keep you well and prevent costly and painful procedures in the future.
Matthew Mastrorocco, DMD is the owner and founder of ROC Dental Group, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.