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What Do Registered Dental Hygienists (RDH) Do?

Job Descriptions July 3, 2014

Registered dental hygienists are individuals that have gone through extraneous training in order to attain a standard of personal professionalism as well as treating patients in a caring, compassionate manner. They are highly skilled in many areas, including prevention and treatment of oral diseases. This facet of patient care starts “at the top” and is important for digestive, heart, and overall body health. This preventative profession helps preserve teeth, gums, and the entire bone structure of the mouth.

You will find hygienists in a myriad of places including hospitals, dentist offices, public health clinics, nursing homes, correctional facilities, and managed care facilities.

RDH Duties

Dental hygienists perform oral health care assessments of patient history. This will include accurate charting, cancer screenings, and evaluation of gum disease.

X-ray, a wonderful diagnostic tool, will be utilized by the dental hygienist for deeper investigation of problems that may not be seen to the naked eye. Processing and interpreting these films is also the responsibility of the hygienist.

Actual cleaning of the teeth is a major part of the hygienist’s daily duty. Scraping and removing tartar and plaque from above and below the gum line with dental instruments takes skill and extreme caution. Patient education on how to minimize these buildups is included in this particular area of hygienist skills. After cleaning, there may be a need to apply cavity prevention agents like fluoride and sealants.

Hygienists may also act as assistants to the dentist during oral surgery procedures. Preparation duties may include administering local anesthetics or nitrous oxide for pain management. This, of course, is under stringent supervision of a qualified dentist in case there is an emergent or adverse reaction.

RDH and Advocacy

Dental hygienists are often cheerleaders for patients that struggle with chronic problems with gum disease or other dental disorders. The need for regimented programs to decrease these individual problems includes teaching necessary nutritional changes and hygiene tenacity and may include ideas for smoking cessation.

Often, otherwise noncompliant patients will bond with a particular hygienist, and once a trusting relationship is built, there will be an increase in compliance as the patient sees the benefits of this aspect of self-care.

One hidden aspect of this job description is that all dental instruments must undergo a special cleaning process between patients. Decontamination of gross blood and particles should be rinsed in cold water then washed with an antiseptic, dried, and placed in a special machine called an autoclave.

This machine sterilizes the instruments to prevent cross contamination between patients. The hygienist is often trained in the elusive skill of monitoring perimeters of this machine, therefore protecting patients in a way that the patient is not even aware of.

Registered dental hygienists have passed a written examination to prove the quality of skill and ability. Typical state licensure requirements indicate that a dental hygienist must have graduated from an accredited program in order to sit for the licensure exam. Continuing education through ongoing training and reviewing of new technology and attitudes in the dental industry is also required in order for the hygienist to keep credentials.

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