If you have regular dental checkups and haven’t had major issues with your teeth or the health of your mouth, you may not see much of your dentist! You’ll likely spend most of your appointment time with your dental hygienist having your teeth cleaned, while the dentist pops in to check the condition of your teeth and mouth at the end of your visit.
Often dental clinics have whole oral health care teams which can include dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental technicians, and administrative staff. However, there are now clinics that are owned by hygienists with no dentist on site. So, do you need to have both a dentist and a dental hygienist?
Dental hygienists are your first line of defence against gum disease.
Of the regulated health professions in Canada (which are jobs like chiropractors, dietitians, paramedics, and optometrists), the sixth-largest group are dental hygienists. There are now more than 30,000 dental hygienists working in Canada.
In Canada, most dental hygienists do a three-year college diploma in which they are educated on a variety of subjects, including microbiology, infection control, anatomy, nutrition, and disease prevention. Many hygienists are now going on to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dental hygiene, dental science, or similar fields. In order to start working with the public, hygienists are required to pass the National Dental Hygiene Certification Board Examination and become licensed by their provincial regulatory body.
What work is the responsibility of dental hygienists?
Dental hygienists are professionals that do more than scale off plaque and tartar! They are trained to evaluate the health of your gums and surrounding bone, and to provide guidance and education on your oral health and care.
Dental hygienists do a variety of procedures during your appointment to ensure your oral health is at its best. They perform preventive and therapeutic procedures, including removing plaque, tartar and stains from your teeth, and apply fluoride and sealants to prevent cavities. Hygienists take x-rays of your teeth, which help diagnose problems that may not be easily seen in the mouth, such as finding decay and evaluating bone loss. At Eau Claire Park Dental, our hygienists are also trained to take photos and digital models of your teeth so that you can see what we are seeing!
Dental hygienists will advise you on oral health education and instructions for taking better care of your teeth. They do oral cancer screenings and provide support for healthy lifestyle choices, like quitting smoking or vaping. In some provinces, hygienists can administer local anesthesia, prescribe medications, use lasers for periodontal therapy, and place tooth restorations.
Dental hygienists can practice without the supervision of a dentist in most areas of the country. It’s becoming more popular for dental hygienists to work independently; in fact, six percent of hygienists have established their own practice in Canada, outside of a traditional dental office.
What do dentists do for your oral health?
Dentists have six or more years of education and receive either a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree.
The dental exam is an important part of your hygiene visit and this can only be done by a dentist. Dentists are also the only ones that are licensed to prescribe and interpret X-rays of your teeth and jaws, which takes a lot of training and experience. For this reason, we find patients receive better care when they see a hygienist and dentist as a team.
During your dental check up, dentists look at levels of inflammation and bone loss, they check for cavities, cracks and tooth wear, check your bite and jaw joints, and see how previous dental work is holding up. Our goal is to catch problems before they are serious (and expensive) to fix.
The health of your mouth is essential to the health of your entire body. Serious diseases, like cancer, can show up in the mouth. Dentists (and hygienists) should always check for early signs of mouth and throat cancers.
Dentists provide restoration and reconstruction of damaged teeth, gums, and oral tissues. Unlike dental hygienists, dentists do fillings, crowns, root canals, and gum surgery. They are able to detect and manage oral conditions and diseases and perform treatment if needed.
There are many types of dentists with different specialties, including orthodontics, periodontics, pediatric dentistry, endodontics, oral surgery and pathology. If you require braces or specialized surgery, you will likely be referred to one of these specialists.
Should you see a dentist or a dental hygienist?
Dentists and dental hygienists work hand in hand to provide you with the best care. We recommend that everyone visit a dental office for a cleaning with your hygienist and a check-up with your dentist at least every six months (more often, if you are at risk for gum disease). This way, your dentist will make sure any potential problems are caught early, and your hygienist will be able to ensure your gums are healthy and levels of inflammation in your mouth are low.
We’d like to hear from you
Do you have any questions about the differences between dental hygienists and dentists and how they better your oral health? We welcome you to post any questions, comments, or thoughts below.