ODHA Website > Your Oral Health > Ask the Professionals

Q. How does my dental hygienist prepare for my appointment?

A. Before you are seated for an appointment with a dental hygienist, the following preparatory steps have been taken to ensure your safety:
– all instruments and supplies used on the previous client have been taken away for sterilization or disposal
– all surfaces touched by the dental hygienist and/or client are thoroughly disinfected sterilized equipment and supplies, including gloves and mask for the dental hygienist and safety glasses for client eye protection, are assembled
– the water line for suction is flushed with a disinfectant
– a lead apron is ready if x-rays are required
– your health history is checked to see if there are any contra-indications to providing dental hygiene care or if
– you require any medication prior to treatment

Q. On a recent visit to my dental office, I saw a dental hygienist for the first time. What exactly is the role of a dental hygienist?

A. Dental hygienists are concerned primarily with the promotion of oral health. As members of the oral health team, they are responsible for professional treatment that helps to prevent periodontal (gum) disease and dental caries (cavities). Dental hygienists are not just teeth cleaners, they also assess, plan and implement treatments, and evaluate individual oral care needs. In Ontario, dental hygienists have completed either two years of post-secondary education at a community college, private school or university, or a baccalaureate program at a university. Regulated by the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, dental hygienists must follow the standards of practice and meet ongoing quality assurance requirements.

Q. How often should I have dental x-rays taken for cavity detection?

A. Guidelines for taking x-rays in the dental office recommend that they be “client specific.” This means that there should be no set time or rule (for example every six months) for x-rays to be taken. It is important that every client be looked at individually. A person’s rate of decay and the level of bone loss between and around the teeth are two of the main factors that should be considered when taking x-rays during checkups. In other situations where there is pain, swelling and/or discoloration, an x-ray is often warranted. Used responsibly, dental x-rays are a vital tool in helping the dental hygienist and dentist assess a person’s oral health.

Q. Do all the new brands of toothpaste that claim to whiten and brighten, and prevent gum disease, etc., really work?

A. The initial response to this question is to say both yes and no. The answer is not as definitive as one would expect because dental hygienists often find that one paste works effectively to whiten or prevent gingivitis for one client, while it may not work as effectively for another. Each person’s mouth has a unique environment. When selecting a toothpaste, look for one with the endorsement of a dental association logo, which means it has met certain standards. You should also consult with your dental hygienist to discuss selecting a toothpaste that helps elevate your personal oral health.

Q. How does gum disease develop?

A. Gum disease develops with the formation of both soft and hard deposits on the surface of the teeth. Over time, a buildup of bacteria called plaque collects at the gum line. This may eventually harden on the teeth as calcium deposits called calculus or tartar. When there is poor oral care, these bacteria cause gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums. These bacteria can penetrate the gum line and eventually spread into the underlying bone causing periodontitis. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to complete destruction of the tooth’s supporting tissues, abscesses and eventually loss of teeth.

Q. What should I expect at my dental hygiene checkup?

A. The first thing your dental hygienist does is review your medical history to ensure there are no medical conditions that could influence your treatment. The next step is to assess the condition of your head and neck region followed by your tongue, gums, teeth and other areas of your mouth. If there are any areas of concern, they will be reported to your dentist or your physician.

At this point, you are ready to have your teeth cleaned (called “scaling”) to remove plaque and tartar (called “calculus”) buildup using either hand instruments or a vibrating ultrasonic instrument. If you have stains, you may have to have your teeth polished. A fluoride treatment may be required to strength your teeth and if your teeth are sensitive, a desensitizing agent may be applied.

Based on the condition of your teeth and gums, your dental hygienist will customize an oral hygiene program for your care between visits. He or she may advise you on other matters relating to your oral health such as diet and nutrition or even smoking cessation. Your personalized oral care program will vary depending on a number of factors, but it should be developed between you and your dental hygienist.

Q. My children have started participating in sports. Should they be wearing a mouthguard?

A. Dental hygienists believe that a sports mouthguard is an essential part of the equipment list. During sports there are often unexpected injuries involving the mouth and face area. By wearing a mouthguard during these unexpected hits, the upper and lower teeth and jaws are protected from smashing into each other. The mouthguard may also: eliminate tooth fractures and reduce injuries to the lips, tongue and cheeks; protect the jaw joint from direct impact while protecting the jaws from fractures; and reduce the incidence of concussion.

Talk to your dental hygienist or dentist as there are many types of sports mouthguards. A customized mouthguard – one made to fit your mouth perfectly – is usually recommended. However, in certain circumstances, such as when a person is wearing braces, modifications have to be made.

Q. What does RDH mean?

A. RDH designates a Registered Dental Hygienist –
To use this designation, in Ontario, a dental hygienist must be registered with the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario and be a registrant in good standing. Dental hygienists in Ontario are regulated health-care professionals, and as such must follow stringent rules and standards set by their regulatory college.

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