Dental hygiene is the science and practice of the recognition, treatment, and prevention of oral diseases. The registered dental hygienist is a primary care oral health professional who has graduated from an accredited dental hygiene program in an institution of higher education and is 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. 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 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).
The seven professional roles of the dental hygienist include: