Dental hygienist

Marion C. Manski, RDH, MS, is acting director of Dental Hygiene and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. She writes here about being a dental hygienist. What does your job entail?: A dental hygienist is a licensed, boarded health professional. The dental hygienist is the preventive arm of dentistry, thus our role: • Screen patients •Thoroughly review, evaluate and monitor the health history of the patient, many times the dental hygienist can be a health advocate as signs of other disease typically present in the mouth (diabetes for example). Thoroughly examines the head and neck in addition to the oral cavity •Assesses oral health status, identifies possible active disease such as cavities, periodontal disease, or oral cancer for the dentist to examine and diagnose • Provide education regarding disease and the attainment of oral health, nutrition. • Provide educational, preventive and treatment services for patients of all ages and medical backgrounds •Exposes and interprets x-rays of the oral cavity •Scale teeth (removing deposit from above and below the gumline) •Provide periodontal therapy, deeper scalings/treatment •Polish teeth •Apply medicaments under the gumline, apply sealants and apply fluoride • Educate proper care for teeth and gums •Tooth whitening •Fabricating athletic mouth protectors •Taking impressions making study casts •Administer local anesthesia in states where allowed, it is allowed in MD • Monitor nitrous oxide (allowed in MD) •Provide care to the elderly in nursing homes/long term care facilities •Provide screenings in schools/health fairs • Participate in research projects • Design, implement, evaluate educational, school, and community programs • Perform managerial and administrative functions • Also can provide education, sales and marketing • Work in public health What kind of schooling or training did you go through?: I received my asociates degree in Dental Hygiene at the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists in Boston MA/Northeastern University, took a regional clinical exam, a national written exam, then state law exam in each state I chose to practice. I received my bachelor's degree in Dental hygiene at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, then my master's degree from the University of Maryland Graduate School in Baltimore. Median salary: $68,250 (based on 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics) What inspired you to this career?: As a teenager, I was employed as an orthodontic assistant, I immediately became interested in all aspects of oral health. I wanted to treat my patients one on one and provide education and care to prevent disease. Aspects intrigued me to explore professions in dentistry and dental hygiene was the perfect match. I have always loved to educate so it was a perfect fit. What do you like best about your job? I enjoy the interaction with patients, your patients become like "family." You see these patients on a routine basis and can see the changes, successes in oral health/hygiene. Providing them care and being part of promoting education and care and having your patient be part of their own process of attaining health is rewarding. It is a challenge to change behavior and to have patients share in their health inspires me. Patients feel comfortable with dental hygienists and we then become their advocates on issues they may feel uncomfortable discussing directly with a dentist. As an educator, I feel that I am giving back to my students my experiences and sharing my knowledge. What are the challenges? The dental hygiene program is a rigorous program but is worth it. Challenges to the profession: providing access to care in a changing healthcare environment. Many patients do not have access to quality care and with our dentist colleagues, hygienists can be instrumental in prevention of disease. Workforce and changing healthcare environments will provide a challenge to dental hygiene/dentistry in general.
Courtesy of Marion C. Manski
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