When we think about the role of a dental hygienist, we think about a person who cleans teeth. However, the role of a dental hygienist goes far beyond just cleaning teeth. Dental hygienists in today’s world play a crucial role in promoting oral health and overall well-being by identifying oral inflammation. The dental hygienist and the entire dental team has an important role to share with their patients that what happens in the mouth can travel through the blood stream and cause other systemic diseases.
Our overarching message needs to be, “Optimal oral health leads to a longer, healthier life!”
In this blog post, we will explore the significance of the dental hygienist’s expanded role and how it positively impacts patients’ total health.
Beyond Teeth: A Holistic Approach
Traditionally, dental professionals focused solely on oral health, a single tooth treating dental issues, and maintaining clean teeth and gums. A growing body of evidence has revealed that oral health is intimately linked to our overall health and well-being. Dental hygienists, as primary oral health care providers, have embraced a more holistic approach, understanding that oral health is a vital component of a person’s total health.
Research has established a strong connection between poor oral health, gum disease and various systemic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory infections, Alzheimer’s, low-birth weight babies, etc. During the dental hygiene appointment and the data collection phase, dental hygienists must identify oral inflammation, bleeding gums, gingivitis, and periodontitis, which will lead to timely intervention and improved patient systemic health..
Preventive Care and Education
Dental hygienists are at the forefront of preventive care, advocating for proper oral hygiene practices and educating patients on the significance of maintaining good oral health. Beyond brushing and flossing techniques, they educate patients about the importance of a well-balanced diet, tobacco cessation, excessive alcohol consumption, and the impact of systemic factors on oral health.
By fostering a strong patient-provider relationship, dental hygienists empower patients to take charge of their oral health, leading to a positive ripple effect on their overall well-being, living a longer, healthier life.
The dental hygienist must understand how to empower their patients and effectively communicate so patients will want to “own their disease” and they want what they need.
Detection and Early Intervention
Routine hygiene preventive care appointments provide an opportunity to detect oral inflammation and other oral conditions sooner than later. Dental hygienists visually examine their patient’s mouth for signs of tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer, and other abnormalities.
By identifying these problems in their infancy, hygienists can take intra-oral pictures and show patients what they see. When dentists complete the hygiene-patient exam, dental hygienists have a great opportunity to communicate with the doctor in front of the patient what they and the patient have been looking at and discussing for the patient’s best care. It is a huge benefit for hygienist’s to be the advocate to their patient while they and the patient are looking together, at the patient’s mouth.
When doctor enters to complete the patient exam he or she is brought into the conversation the hygienist and patient have been having. This saves time during the exam when the hygienist has collaborated with the patient as their advocate for their best dental care options.
One message to the patient: “Prevention costs a little money but treating disease can cost a lot of money.”
To the patient who does not want to spend money at a dental office, here’s an example conversation: “Over time, not treating this gum disease can cause a lot more than loss of money on gum treatment and possibly surgery. It can cause loss of teeth and/or various systemic diseases. Optimal oral health will lead to a longer, healthier life, saving money in the dental office and other medical procedures and medications.”
Collaboration with the Healthcare Team
Recognizing the interplay between oral health and the patient’s overall well-being, dental hygienists and the dentists’ conversation with the patient and must effectively communicate in a way that ensures comprehensive patient care.
It’s important to understand the patients value and then use words and phrases that at attached to what the patient values.
Use words like gum disease, infection and bleeding gums vs. periodontal disease, cleaning, and deep cleaning. If your patient has money as a value and when they have gum disease speak about prevention costing less money than disease. Explain that waiting to treat or not treating disease will eventually cost a lot more money on expensive treatment of the disease, tooth loss, other systemic diseases which take a toll on their life.
This collaborative approach between hygienist, doctor and patient fosters a more comprehensive understanding on the patient’s behalf, allowing patients to take ownership of their disease.
The role of a dental hygienist has evolved significantly, emphasizing the importance of treating a patient’s total health rather than merely focusing on cleaning their teeth. By embracing a holistic approach, dental hygienists contribute to early detection of inflammation and prevention of systemic diseases, they promote preventive care, and empower patients to take control of their health.
Through collaboration with the dentist and dental team, dental hygienists enhance the overall well-being of patients, recognizing and promoting the vital connection between oral health and systemic health. Dental hygienists are no longer just cleaning teeth but playing a pivotal role in promoting total health of the patient.