The ADHA or American Dental Hygienists Association defines dental hygienists as professionals who have specialized in oral health care. They are responsible for treating and preventing oral diseases. It doesn’t matter in which state do they practice but they must have a license. A license is provided to an oral or dental hygienist when they graduate from a dental university or college. Hygienists need to pass a state clinical exam and a national board exam to become a licensed dental hygienist.

Dental hygienists are quite different from dental assistants as hygienists don’t work under anyone’s supervision as assistants do. Hygienists work under the general supervision of a licensed dentist. In a team of dentists, hygienists are an important part. Presence of a hygienist in a dental team reduces the workload of a dentist. Fluoride application and dental cleaning are the common activities carried out by hygienists in a dentist-led team.

Responsibilities and Job Duties of Dental Hygienists

The responsibilities and duties of a state licensed dental hygienist depend upon the state where they are practicing. The ADA or American Dental Association has detailed some basic services to perform by a licensed dental hygienist or health professional, these are:

1. Application of preventive materials such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth.
2. Oral hygiene care strategies, counseling and educating the patients
3. Creating study case impressions
4. Developing and recording dental radiographs
5. Plague and calculus removal from teeth
6. Office management and documentation
7. Assessment of oral health, a review of the patient’s oral history, neck, and head inspection, screening of oral cancer, etc.

Along with the above-mentioned activities or duties, the state where the hygienist is practicing might call him/her to perform duties under the director general’s supervision. Dental hygienists in Arizona are allowed to perform the x-ray, fluoride, fissure sealant and pit, topical anesthesia and prophylaxis with authorization given by a licensed dentist. The licensing dentist supervises these duties carried out by a hygienist. Under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist, hygienists are also allowed to perform duties such as:

1. Local Anesthesia
2. Soft tissue curettage
3. Administration of nitrous oxide
4. Placing and removing sutures
5. Placing and removing periodontal dressings

In California, dental hygienists can perform the above duties except for local anesthesia. Twin Leaf Dentistry also allows the same duties to be performed under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist. Other states like Georgia have set stricter laws in terms of performing duties by a hygienist. In Georgia, a dental hygienist cannot perform the following duties:

1. Placing sutures
2. X-rays
3. Treatment planning
4. Local anesthesia
5. Administration of Nitrous Oxide

However, hygienists can perform duties under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist. These duties are:

1. Topical anesthesia
2. Soft tissue curettage
3. Prophylaxis
4. Root planning
5. Removing sutures
6. Pit and fissures sealants
7. Fluoride treatment
8. Placing and removing periodontal dressings

While comparing to this, dental hygienists or professionals in Kansas have much more allowable duties to perform. Among all their duties, most are allowed to perform under the general supervision of the licensed dentist. In Kansas, local anesthesia is the only activity or duty for which a hygienist requires the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.

Dental Hygienists: Education & Licensing

A dental hygienist covers the professional course of study through a college or university. There are several dental schools, technical schools, junior colleges, and universities across the globe from where a person can complete the course of a dental hygienist. To get a state license of a dental professional, one needs to obtain the associate degree which needs two years to attain. The dental hygiene course or program is concluded by a clinical externship. This allows the candidate to test their knowledge and skills in dental care under the supervision of a senior dentist. The associate degree in dental hygiene permits the hygienist to apply for the state licensing examination which is mandatory to attain the state license of a dental hygienist. National Board Dental Hygiene Examination is another examination which a dental hygienist needs to pass.

After the associate degree, a hygienist may pursue the bachelor or master degree in dental hygiene. The entire process of this course requires two years for the associate degree, then another two years for the bachelor’s degree and four years of study and practice for the master’s degree. The bachelor’s or master’s degree is not mandatory for dental practice but it is required for teaching in dental school and research purpose.

In America, the ADA or American Dental Association has a commission known as the CODA or Commission on Dental Accreditation which serves as the sole accrediting body in the country for dental hygiene. Throughout the United States of America, there are a total of 330 CODA’s which accredit dental hygiene programs.

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