Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist – What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist – What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?

There shouldn’t be an either/or choice when it comes to seeing the dentist or the dental hygienist. Certain tasks can only be performed by a dentist, while other tasks are best left to a hygienist. To maintain your dental health throughout the year, it’s important to strike the correct balance.

Dentists and dental hygienists play very different roles in the dental practice, but they complement one another perfectly. By understanding the difference in the roles, you can make the most of their expertise and services.

What Is A Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a licensed oral health professional who specializes in preventive dental care. They work closely with dentists to provide comprehensive oral hygiene services to patients. Dental hygienists typically undergo rigorous education and training, earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene and obtaining licensure through state examinations.

Understanding the Difference Between a Dentist and a Dental Hygienist

In a dental practice, dentists and dental hygienists play distinct yet complementary roles in ensuring optimal oral health for patients. Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between these two dental professionals:

Dentist vs. Dental Hygienist: Roles and Responsibilities


  • Dental specialists are responsible for conducting comprehensive dental examinations and diagnosing oral health issues.
  • They perform various dental procedures, ranging from routine cleanings to complex treatments such as root canal therapy and tooth extractions.
  • Dentists may specialize in specific areas of dentistry, such as orthodontics (braces) or endodontics (root canal treatment), although general dentists can also perform these procedures.
  • While general dentists offer a wide range of services, patients seeking specialized cosmetic treatments may choose to consult a cosmetic dentistry specialist.

Dental Hygienist:

  • Dental hygienists are primarily known for their expertise in deep teeth cleaning (scaling and root planing) to remove plaque, tartar, and bacteria from the teeth and gums.
  • In addition to cleaning services, dental hygienists provide preventive care and education to patients, offering guidance on proper oral hygiene practices and answering questions about at-home dental care.
  • While dental hygienists do not perform dental examinations or carry out procedures like fillings or root canals, they play a crucial role in maintaining oral health and preventing dental problems through their preventive care services.

Choosing the Right Appointment

Understanding the distinction between a dentist and a dental hygienist can help patients make informed decisions about their dental care needs. Just as you wouldn’t hire an architect to assemble your IKEA furniture, it’s essential to choose the appropriate professional for your dental needs:

  • Dentist Appointments: When in need of dental examinations, procedures, or specialized treatments, scheduling an appointment with a dentist is necessary. Dentists are equipped to diagnose oral health issues and provide appropriate treatment.
  • Dental Hygienist Appointments: For routine cleanings, preventive care, and questions about at-home oral hygiene, visiting a dental hygienist is recommended. Dental hygienists focus on maintaining oral health through deep cleaning and education.

By understanding the distinct roles of dentists and dental hygienists, patients can ensure they receive the appropriate care for their oral health needs, ultimately saving time and money while promoting lifelong dental wellness.

What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?

Dental hygienists are primarily responsible for performing various preventive dental procedures aimed at maintaining optimal oral health. Some of their key duties include:

  1. Teeth Cleaning: One of the primary tasks of dental hygienists is professional teeth cleaning, also known as dental prophylaxis. During this procedure, they remove plaque, tartar (calculus), and stains from the teeth using specialized instruments. This helps prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
  2. Oral Examinations: Dental hygienists often conduct preliminary oral examinations to assess the overall health of a patient’s mouth. They inspect the teeth and gums for signs of decay, inflammation, or other oral health issues, noting any abnormalities for further evaluation by the dentist.
  3. Patient Education: Dental hygienists play a crucial role in educating patients about proper oral hygiene practices. They offer guidance on brushing and flossing techniques, recommend appropriate oral care products, and provide dietary advice to help prevent dental problems.
  4. Dental X-rays: In many dental practices, dental hygienists are trained to take dental X-rays, which are essential for detecting cavities, bone loss, and other dental issues not visible during a visual examination. These X-rays assist dentists in diagnosing and treating various oral conditions.
  5. Applying Fluoride Treatments: Dental hygienists may administer fluoride treatments to help strengthen the teeth and prevent tooth decay. Fluoride application is particularly beneficial for patients at higher risk of cavities.

When Should I Visit a Dentist?

As a crucial oral health professional, a dental care provider should be consulted under various circumstances to ensure optimal dental care. Here’s a guide on when to schedule a dental appointment:

  • In Cases of Pain: If you’re experiencing dental pain or discomfort, it’s essential to seek immediate attention from a dentist to address the underlying issue and alleviate discomfort.
  • Routine Check-ups: For individuals without urgent concerns, scheduling routine dental check-ups every six months is recommended. However, those with excellent oral hygiene and minimal issues may extend the interval between visits to one year.
  • Children’s Dental Visits: Children should visit the dentist every six months due to the potential for dental issues to escalate quickly in young individuals. This frequency ensures early detection and intervention, promoting lifelong oral health. Additionally, children undergoing orthodontic treatment with braces may require more frequent visits, typically every 4-8 weeks in complex cases.
  • Complex Dental Problems: Patients with complex dental problems, such as dental implants, dentures, or severe gum disease, may need to visit the dentist more frequently than every six months. These visits help manage and monitor issues effectively, preventing complications and ensuring optimal treatment outcomes.

When Should I Visit a Dental Hygienist?

Dental hygienists, as integral members of the dental practitioner team, offer specialized services to maintain oral health and prevent dental problems. Here’s when you should consider scheduling an appointment with a dental hygienist:

  • Between Dental Visits: To maximize the benefits of dental hygiene care, booking appointments with a hygienist between routine dental visits is advisable. While not everyone requires biannual visits, some individuals may benefit from deep cleaning to manage gum disease or prepare for procedures like dental implants.
  • Maximizing Impact: Spacing out hygienist appointments between dentist visits allows individuals to optimize the impact of dental hygiene care and ensure comprehensive oral health maintenance. This approach helps identify and address any emerging issues promptly.
  • Personalized Care: Even if deep cleaning isn’t required every six months, visiting a dental hygienist offers an opportunity to discuss oral health concerns, explore potential treatments, and receive personalized advice on brushing and flossing techniques.
  • Ensuring Correct Oral Care: Regular visits to a dental hygienist enable individuals to verify that they are practicing proper oral hygiene between dental appointments. Hygienists can offer guidance on effective brushing and flossing methods tailored to individual needs.

By incorporating regular visits to both dentists and dental hygienists into your oral health routine, you can ensure comprehensive care and maintain a healthy smile for years to come.

Can Hygienists Do Fillings?

While dental hygienists are trained in various preventive procedures, such as teeth cleaning and fluoride application, they typically do not perform restorative treatments like fillings. Restorative procedures are typically carried out by dentists, who have advanced training in diagnosing and treating dental conditions.

How Important Is Dental Hygiene?

Keeping your teeth clean is essential to your general health and wellbeing. Tooth decay, gum disease, and foul breath are just a few of the dental issues that can result from inadequate oral hygiene. People can avoid many oral health problems and keep their teeth and gums healthy for the duration of their lives by adopting good oral hygiene practices and scheduling routine dental checkups with dental specialists.


How Often Should You Get Your Teeth Professionally Cleaned?

The frequency of professional teeth cleanings depends on individual oral health needs. In general, most people should visit their dental hygienist for a cleaning every six months. However, individuals with certain risk factors for dental problems, such as gum disease or a history of cavities, may need more frequent cleanings as recommended by their dentist.

Is It Painful to Get Your Teeth Cleaned?

Professional teeth cleanings are typically not painful, though some individuals may experience mild discomfort or sensitivity during certain procedures, such as scaling or root planing. Dental hygienists are trained to ensure patient comfort and may use techniques to minimize discomfort, such as applying topical numbing agents or adjusting the pressure of cleaning instruments. If a patient experiences significant discomfort during a cleaning, they should communicate with their dental hygienist, who can make adjustments to ensure a more comfortable experience.


Dental hygienists, with their training in preventative dentistry, are essential in maintaining dental health and averting dental issues. They greatly enhance patients’ general well-being by providing everything from expert tooth cleanings to patient education. Dental hygienists assist people in achieving and maintaining lifetime dental health by collaborating with dentists and other dental professionals.