Every October we recognize National Dental Hygiene Month. This past month I got to thinking: “Why is my career as a dental hygienist important?”
Many people think that as a dental hygienist, I just clean teeth.
Did you know that cleaning teeth is the least important thing that I do?
I have the privilege of getting to spend an hour with each of my patients 2-4 times a year! What other healthcare provider gets to spend this much time with you? I am an extension of your primary care doctor.
During your appointment, I first review your medical history. You may think that this is unimportant, but it helps to give me clues as to your overall health. Your medical history helps me to determine how to provide the safest and best oral care for you. It also helps me reduce the risk of injury and medical emergencies during treatment. In addition, some medications and medical conditions can greatly affect your oral health. The health of your mouth can be a good indicator of the health of your body, so when I am aware of any medical issues, it enables me to help you live a healthier life!
Blood pressure…why do I take your blood pressure?
I am in the unique position to screen you for hypertension since I see you regularly. Lawson, in her RDH online article, “10 Reasons Why We Must Take Dental Patients’ Blood Pressure,” explains why it is so essential that dental hygienists take their patients’ blood pressure. She states that catching high blood pressure in its early stages allows for a referral to your primary care physician. This then enables you to be evaluated before serious damage can occur to your heart, eyes, blood vessels, and/or kidneys. By doing this, a medical crisis can be prevented, namely, a heart attack or stroke. So when I take your blood pressure, I can help prevent permanent health damage and can help save lives.
During your oral cancer exam, I am checking not only your tongue, but also your cheeks, lips, gums, palate, and throat, as well as the skin around your face and neck. I look for any discoloration in your skin, and I also feel your neck for any lumps or bumps. Cancer in the head or neck can be devastating, but just like with hypertension, early detection is essential and can save lives. I also look for any other signs of changes or conditions that may give me a clue as to other health concerns. Oral cancer screenings save lives!
Taking radiographs (x-rays) allows me to check areas of your mouth that I could not otherwise see. When I take radiographs, I am looking for decay, bone loss, impacted teeth, extra teeth, and anything abnormal.
Did you know that having an x-ray taken can save your life?
I recently had the privilege of taking a panoramic x-ray on one of my patients. The x-ray showed calcification in his carotid arteries. After a referral to his cardiologist, it was determined that the patient had a 98% blockage! The patient had a stent placed and is doing well. He had no prior symptoms – having this simple radiograph saved his life!
As I remove any plaque and calculus (tartar), I evaluate the condition of your gums and teeth. I look for any inflammation and/or bleeding, and I measure around your gums to determine if there are any periodontal issues. As I stated earlier, a healthy mouth is very much a part of a healthy body. Having your teeth cleaned every 3-6 months has little affect if you do not do your part on a daily basis. Therefore, educating you on proper homecare and recommending appropriate tools for you to maintain your oral health are extremely important. Counseling in proper nutrition is also a benefit I can provide to help maintain good dental health.
Being a dental hygienist is so much more than cleaning teeth!
We are ESSENTIAL to your overall health and WE…SAVE…LIVES!
Teresa Hanna, RDH
Lawson, Linda. 10 Reasons Why We Must Take Dental Patients’ Blood Pressure. RDH. 2017, Jan. 16. https://www.rdhmag.com/patient-care/article/16409903/10-reasons-why-we-must-take-dental-patients-blood-pressure.