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Smile Squad: How dental hygienists differ from dentists

Posted on May 2, 2024 in Healthy You

image of dentist, hygienist and patient

Ever wondered who's who behind the masks and instruments at your dental checkup? Although both dentists and dental hygienists play important roles in keeping your smile healthy, their specific duties are different. Here, we explore the unique roles of these dental professionals.

Dental hygienist: Your partner in daily dental care

Think of your dental hygienist as your personal oral health coach. They are trained professionals who focus on preventive care and education. Dental hygienists typically hold an associate or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene and are required to be licensed by the state they practice in.

During your appointment, your hygienist will be your primary contact, providing friendly and informative dental care. Hygienists typically:

  • Deep clean your mouth: Remove plaque and tartar buildup on and around your teeth and gums.
  • Check for any dental problems: Examine your mouth for signs of gum disease, cavities or other concerns.
  • Offer personalized advice: Answer your questions, provide tips on brushing and flossing, and discuss the connection between good dental hygiene and overall health.
  • Apply preventive treatments and take x-rays: Depending on your needs, they may apply fluoride treatments, sealants to protect your teeth from decay, or take x-rays.

Dentist: The oral health expert

Dentists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating and preventing oral health problems. Dentists typically complete four years of dental school after their undergraduate degree, earning either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Dentists may even pursue additional training to specialize in specific areas like orthodontics, oral surgery, or pediatric dentistry.

During your visit, your dentist will:

  • Perform a total oral exam: This may involve reviewing x-rays, screening you for oral cancer, assessing your jaw and bite, and checking your gums and teeth for any issues.
  • Diagnose and treat oral health conditions: They can identify oral health problems and develop treatment plans to address them.
  • Perform various dental procedures: This may include fillings, tooth extractions (tooth removal), root canals, crowns and bridges.
  • Manage dental emergencies: In case of unexpected tooth pain, injuries or other urgent problems, your dentist will provide quick and effective care.

Joining forces for your good oral health

Your dentist and dental hygienist work together as a team to protect your oral health. While they have distinct roles, both professionals are valuable resources for your oral and overall health. By attending your twice-yearly dental appointments and working with both your hygienist and dentist, you can enjoy a bright and healthy smile for years to come.

Has it been a while since your last dental appointment? We make it easy to find an in-network dentist near you. Check out Delta Dental of Iowa’s online Find a Provider tool to get started on your journey toward good oral health.