As we are keeping our teeth for longer, a whole new area of dental practice has opened up known as gerodontology, specialising in the oral health of older people. Dental hygienists have a key role to play in this.
When you were a child, chances are your dentist gave your teeth a quick ‘clean and polish’ at the end of an appointment. Dental hygienists were few and far between. Not anymore. Today the dental hygienist profession consists of a highly qualified cadre of over 7,500 individuals whose job is not just to make sure you have sparkling teeth but to help keep your whole mouth healthy. And it’s not just your teeth and gums that will benefit. The latest research shows that good oral health also contributes to better overall health.
‘The dental hygienist is a vital member of the dental team, an expert in periodontal care (care of the gums) who can help prevent problems arising,’ says Julie Rosse, former President of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy. All dental hygienists must have completed and passed the examinations of an approved General Dental Council (gdc-uk.org) course and must be GDC-registered to practise.
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What can dental hygienists do?
Dental hygiene is about much more than just cleaning your teeth, however. The dental hygienist can also monitor gum disease and give personalised advice on toothbrushing and cleaning in between your teeth, as well as specific help. This may include advice on quitting smoking (smoking increases risk of gum disease and tooth loss), on diet and nutrition, and on using fluoride agents to strengthen teeth.
They can also advise on gadgets from the latest power toothbrushes to water-flossing devices that can make it easier to keep teeth and gums healthy. If you have more extensive gum disease, the dental hygienist may carry out deep scaling (called root surface debridement), seal fissures as well as apply special antimicrobial rinses and paint-on agents to help control gum disease and prevent tooth decay. Some are also trained to take X-rays and provide tooth whitening (following a dentist’s prescription).
As more of us keep our teeth well into later life we quite literally become ‘long in the tooth’ due to gum recession, which exposes the root surfaces, causing teeth to become more sensitive and increasing risk of decay. Regular visits to the dental hygienist can help to maintain the root surface in a healthy condition and treat or prevent decay and sensitivity. ‘It should be a positive experience that gives you time to devote to your individual oral healthcare,’ says Julie.
How often should I go to the dental hygienist?
Your dentist or dental hygienist will advise how often you should get your teeth checked by a hygienist, depending on the state of your oral health.
Even if you have full dentures, it is important to visit the dental practice regularly. Abnormalities, such as signs of mouth cancer, can be picked up at an early stage and dental hygienists are as vigilant as dentists when examining your mouth.
How much does a dental hygienist cost?
A simple scale and polish on the NHS is £23.80 (band 1), but your dentist has to agree it is clinically required. Deeper scaling (if needed) is £65.20 (band 2).
Private treatment varies from practice to practice and also different areas of the country, but expect to pay somewhere in the region of £40 to £60 for a dental hygienist.
Did you know?
The Baby Boomer generation is known as the ‘heavy metal brigade’ as we have mouths full of metal (amalgam) fillings.
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