Dental hygienists have been working in the USA and the UK now for over fifty years. They are members of a rapidly growing profession and are in great demand in Australia.

Their University course involves a minimum of two years full time study and practise in the treatment and prevention of tooth decay (caries) and gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis or pyorrhea). As more teeth are lost in adults from gum disease than from decay, this is a very important aspect of dental care. Recent studies have also found links with gum disease and heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other general health issues, due to the presence of chronic inflammation and the subsequent release of harmful cytokines into the body.

The major cause of gum disease is the incomplete removal of plaque, which will eventually harden to become tartar (calculus) which must be removed professionally by the dentist or hygienist.

Other factors may be physical irritants (impacted food), chemical irritants (smoking), dietary deficiency, pregnancy, systemic conditions (diabetes, leukaemia), medications and other oral conditions (poorly aligned teeth, poorly fitting fillings, crowns or dentures, as well as tooth grinding or clenching).

Early signs of gum disease are:

  • Gums that bleed when brushing or flossing
  • Red, puffy or sore gums.

Hygienists are also trained in the prevention of tooth decay by application of various forms of fluoride or Recaldent therapy together with correct brushing and flossing techniques and dietary modifications.

Early decay can thus be arrested and even reversed. The early detection of both gum disease and decay is crucial, therefore regular appointments to monitor and re-evaluate are advisable in the interests of good health.

Hygienists are also qualified in the taking of dental X-rays and dental impressions and administering local anaesthetic.

The hygienist will discuss and devise the most effective prevention program for each patient. Their careful and detailed care under the supervision of the dentist, allows the dentist to devote time to more complex procedures.