Dental Hygiene

Dental hygiene is the science and practice of the recognition, treatment, 
and prevention of oral diseases. The registered dental hygienist is a preventive oral
 health professional who has graduated from an accredited dental hygiene program in an institution of higher education, licensed in dental hygiene who provides educational, clinical, research, administrative, and therapeutic services supporting total health through the promotion of optimal oral health. In practice, dental hygienists integrate the roles of clinician, educator, advocate, manager, and researcher to prevent oral diseases and promote health. Competent, well-educated practitioners of dental hygiene are graduates of Commission on Dental Accreditation accredited programs. Each state has defined its own specific regulations for dental hygiene licensure.

Dental hygienists work in partnership with dentists. Dentists and dental hygienists practice together as colleagues, each offering professional expertise for the goal of providing optimum oral health care to the people served. Dental hygienists are viewed as experts in their field, consulted about appropriate dental hygiene interventions, expected to make clinical dental hygiene decisions, and plan, implement, and evaluate the dental hygiene component of the overall care plan. The dental hygienist establishes the dental hygiene diagnosis, which is an integral component of the comprehensive dental diagnosis established by the dentist.

The dental hygienist typically practices in one of two major models, the professional model or the occupational model:

  • The professional model views the dental hygienist to be knowledge-based wherein he or she uses a process of care or standard of care to assess needs, diagnose oral health problems, as well as to plan, implement, and evaluate care. The practitioner is responsible for making decisions about care and is accountable to the patient. This model requires higher levels of learning (education).
  • The occupational model views the dental hygienist as more task-based than knowledge-based. Typically this individual would be referred to as an “auxiliary” and the majority of his or her tasks or duties being delegated by the dentist often under direct supervision. Expertise, evaluation of results, self-assessment, and decision-making are not stressed and generally not considered an integral part of the individual’s responsibility. This model conveys the idea that the practitioner is accountable only to the supervising dentist, who is then accountable to the patient. This model generally implies “training.”

The registered (licensed) dental hygienist provides a professional practice that includes prevention, education and therapeutic interventions to aid individuals in attaining and maintaining the maximum degree of oral health possible for the individual. The professional association for dental hygienists is the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). Roles of the profession of dental hygiene may include:

  • Administrator/manager
  • Change agent to create an atmosphere favorable to making appropriate change to better promote health
  • Clinician in collaboration with the dentist to provide prevention and therapeutic interventions and evaluate dental hygiene therapy outcomes
  • Educator/oral health promoter to individuals, groups; as well as in the education of dental, dental hygiene and dental assisting students; and staff training
  • Consumer/client/patient advocate
  • Researcher to contribute to advancement of the knowledge base in oral healthcare3

For more information, look at www.adha.org or the ADA website.