15 Surprising Things You Probably Don’t Know About Dental Hygienists

10. They can work in a wide variety of settings Dental hygienists can work in a wide variety of settings, including public health, private dental practices,… Simi - June 13, 2018

10. They can work in a wide variety of settings

Dental hygienists can work in a wide variety of settings, including public health, private dental practices, research teams, educational facilities and community institutions. They are in demand in general dental practices and specialty practices such as pediatric dentistry. They are also in demand in public health services where oral health education is important.

Different levels of education and experience equip them to work in different situations. They may get involved in teaching dental hygiene students in dental hygiene education programs. They may decide to go into research and work as part of a research team. This involves learning how to manage and coordinate clinical trials. They may even choose to work for companies that market dental-related equipment and materials.

Those who work in public health may do oral health screening in elementary schools, promote and educate people about oral health and render preventative dental hygiene services. Dental hygienists who want to make a difference across a community rather than strictly giving individual care are often drawn to public health dentistry. Educational requirements to go into public health vary, with most posts requiring the minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

Many of those who experience difficulty with physical problems in private practice turn to education, where their clinical expertise is valued. When an instructor is passionate about a profession, it can energize learners and keeps them engaged in the learning process. The ability to guide and coach students to being the best hygienists they can be is a great responsibility. Dental hygiene educators have the opportunity to shape the future of the profession. Educational requirements vary for educators with some having very strict requirements and others only requiring a bachelor’s degree.  

11. They need these soft skills

Intelligence is required to tackle the study courses required for being a dental hygienist, especially because a number of them are heavy on science. They test the ability to think critically, and problem solve. Even once dental hygienists have qualified, they must continue to study and keep up to date with new cutting-edge technologies. They never stop learning and need to be pro-active enough to recognize areas of concern that go beyond addressing the periodontal disease.

Strong communication skills are important when dealing with patients. This is one skill that can go a long way to help reassure patients when they are feeling anxious or uncomfortable. Compassion and flexibility are also required when it comes to handling a constant stream of patients, day after day.

Mastering the practical skills takes physical strength, endurance, and manual dexterity. A fair amount of physical stamina is required for the job because much time is spent on the feet and bending over patients. The ability to work well under pressure is essential, and those who have difficulty working in close proximity to others may struggle in this profession.

The ability to focus in a fast-paced environment and act as a team player is important. A professional attitude is expected in interactions as well as being well-presented and courteous. Without the ability to pay attention to detail, several aspects of the job become difficult.  When doing the cleaning, it is necessary to pay attention to every little stain. When performing examinations, paying attention makes noticing potential health problems that would otherwise go unnoticed possible and in extreme cases, could even save someone’s life.

12. Job flexibility is possible

The flexibility of the career attracts dental hygienists. They can work full-time, part-time, double time and everything in between. This enables them to find a balance between career and lifestyle and to work longer hours when they can. It gives mothers an opportunity to have an important career and stay involved in their children’s busy schedules by working three days a week.

Dental hygienists can also be self-employed. When they are self-employed professionals, this provides flexibility because they are in control of their own work schedules. They can work as many or as few hours as they want to. They can also work at more than one dental office. Self-employment usually comes with the potential to make more profit than being employed by someone else.

Even as regular employees, it is still possible to enjoy flexible work schedules. Some of them work a few hours every day or two to three days a week and spend the rest of their time with their families. There may even be an opportunity to work evenings and weekends, rather than regular work hours. Nationally, only about half of dental hygienists work on a regular nine to five basis.

Some dentists do not work every day. If the dental hygienist needs to work full-time hours, going to work for more than one dentist is an option. Working with several dentists on a part-time basis can, in essence, create a full-time job. This is a question of using their hours to create a suitable schedule and still make enough money. Almost a quarter of hygienists work in two offices, showing further proof of how flexible this career can be for those who need to work around personal commitments.  

13. They may need to educate others about what they can do

There are many people who do not understand what the role of a dental hygienist encompasses. Receptionists, office managers, patients and even some dentists may have to be educated. They do not mean to offend when they misunderstand the scope of the job, but they do need to be informed. Informing people requires patience, showing practical skills and demonstrating academic knowledge.

It is not uncommon for dental hygienists to end up in practices where the periodontal infection is still being treated with the same strategies and technology that was being used five or ten years ago. Many things have changed, and better tools, better science, and knowledge about the serious health risks of the oral-systemic link have made the job of the dental hygienist much more comprehensive. A dental hygienist can have an important role in helping to achieve higher acceptance from patients for periodontal procedures and incorporate new technology to serve patients better. When the role of the dental hygienist is maximized, the whole practice can benefit.

The role of hygienists has evolved greatly over time, but one component that has not changed that much is that they have been required to work under the supervision or assignment of a dentist. Currently, they work under varying levels of supervision as determined by the licensing state. Based on previous research, it is evident that dental students and dental hygiene students are not fully aware of each other’s scope of access.

The U.S. is currently experiencing an oral health care crisis, and many different strategies have been suggested to cope with it. Dental hygienists can play an important role in preventative oral care which offers one solution for addressing the crisis in specific populations. A number of states have already adopted policies that allow dental hygienists to give oral health care to underserved populations. They can do this without a dentist’s assignment.

14. They have to deal with bad teeth and bad breath

It’s no secret that dental hygienists are exposed to seeing some horrible sights and smelling odors that would make most people want to run away. The smell of infection is far from appealing, not to mention rotting food that has to be extracted from where it is lodged between the teeth and gums. Cleaning teeth entail spending all day looking into patients’ mouths.

Hygienists treat some patients with decaying teeth and bad breath. The stench of halitosis or bad breath can be quite overwhelming. Individuals with weak stomachs may want to gag which could upset a patient. They also deal with saliva. If a patient sneezes, coughs or gags, saliva droplets that may carry the disease are released into the atmosphere. Hygienists may also be exposed to blood and vomit.

Halitosis affects about a quarter of the population, so hygienists are exposed to this on a daily basis, and yet they manage to face patients with a smile. Anaerobic bacteria produce volatile sulfur compounds that are the primary cause of halitosis in most cases and cause the ‘rotten egg’ smell. Hygienists play a key role in identifying halitosis and trying to treat and prevent it. Some patients have excellent dental hygiene and still experience bad breath. This is where hygienists have to go outside of traditional thinking and figure out the root of the problem.

Dental hygienists have to have a sense of purpose to be able to overcome the less appealing aspects of the job such as foul smells. When their goal is to prevent disease, they consider what they have to experience worth it for the health of the patient. Bacteria in the mouth have been linked to chronic inflammation which in turn is linked to certain cancers, low birth weight, pre-term babies, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The health problems of patients are important to them, and they want to do what they can to prevent them.  

15. They work with the public on what the public doesn’t like

Dental hygienists are constantly working with the public which can be hard. To add to this struggle, people generally do not like having dental work done. Dental hygienists have to work hard to change their perceptions. Some patients may even take their fear out on the hygienist because they feel vulnerable and anxious.

Patients can be difficult in many different ways. Some are resistant to care, and others may be combative or insulting because they are in pain. Patients may even try manipulating by using guilt or threats. They may want an inappropriate procedure or a drug they don’t need. When patients are belligerent, engaging in conflict is a bad idea.

 Dental hygienists have to learn how to navigate objections and negative situations. Many people do not want to be told what to do. The dental hygienist has to learn how to speak to patients in a way that makes them realize the benefits of good oral care. They may ask their patients to consider or evaluate suggestions rather than saying they must or should do something. They may ask questions related to any objections, leading patients forward slowly to make their own conclusions.

Dealing with difficult patients is part of the job. It can be challenging, but it also brings out the creativity in finding ways to help these difficult patients and make a positive impact on their lives. These patients need extra help to keep their visits successful and prevent jeopardizing all the work spent to help other patients have positive experiences. Sometimes the appointments for difficult patients can be scheduled for specific times that may be slower or will minimize exposure to other patients. A calm, reassuring tone will often alleviate tense situations.