When you go to the dentist, usually the first person you see is the dental hygienist. Just as there are doctors and nurses in hospitals, in dental practices you have dentists and dental hygienists. Understanding what each person does can help you feel more comfortable during your next appointment.
Understanding What a Dental Hygienist Does
One the biggest differences between a dentist and a dental hygienist is the function of their role. You really only spend a fair amount of time with your dentist if there’s a problem — for example, you might need treatment for gum disease or have a cavity that needs to be filled.
A hygienist, on the other hand, is there to keep things from going wrong. He or she is usually the person responsible for cleaning your teeth during a routine appointment. Your hygienist will scrape the tartar and plaque off of your teeth and polish them. Hygienists also usually take X-rays of your teeth and gums, give patients a fluoride rinse, and apply sealants to the teeth to ward off cavities. Your hygienist will also review ways to care for your teeth and overall health at home, offering tips on ways to brush and floss, and on what foods to avoid or to eat for a healthy mouth.
Understanding What Dentists Do
While a dental hygienist might make note of an issue in your mouth and point it out to a dentist or periodontist, he or she won’t diagnose the problem. That job is left to dentists, who then come up with a plan of action for treating the problem.
Another big difference between dentists and hygienists is specialization. While a dental hygienist might work in a periodontist’s practice, he or she most likely doesn’t consider him or herself a periodontal hygienists. Some dentists receive additional training after dental school that allows them to specialize and provide care for certain conditions to patients.
Periodontists, who focus on treating gum disease and other concerns of the gums, are just one example of dental specialists. Other examples include endodontists, who treat nerve related issues, orthodontists, who correct people’s crooked teeth and misaligned bites, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who are qualified to perform surgeries in the mouth.
Training Requirements for Dental Hygienists
Just like dentists, dental hygienists need special training in order to do their jobs. But, typically, the amount of training a person needs to become a hygienist is less than the training required to be a dentist. Both associate degree level (two year) and bachelor degree level (four year) programs qualify a person to take the exam and become a licensed dental hygienist. What is particularly important is that the program a person participates in is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.
After completing a degree program, an aspiring hygienist needs to pass an exam to earn a license to practice in his or her state. A licensed hygienist is able to include the initials “RDH” after his or her name, for registered dental hygienist.
Training Requirements for Dentists
Dentists, on the other hand, need a few more years of education before they can legally practice as dentists. Dental school is a requirement for all dentists. To get into dental school, a student needs to take a number of science courses during their undergraduate degree program. If a person’s goal is to be a general dentist, he or she is able to practice after earning a dental degree.
Dentists who hope to specialize need to complete a few more years of training, usually in the form of a residency program. Depending on the program and specialty, a residency can be anywhere from two to four years long.
Like hygienists, dentists need to be licensed by their state to practice. Dental specialists also need an additional license in their particular specialty.
Want to learn more about the differences between dentists and dental hygienists? Schedule an appointment to see Dr. John Paul Gallardo or Dr. William Lamas today. The Miami-based periodontists are happy to give you a check-up, check for gum disease, and let you know more about what a career in dentistry looks like. Call (305) 447-1447 to schedule an appointment.