What Does a Dental Hygienist Do During an Appointment?

As part of your routine dental care, you should go to your dentist, at the very least, annually to have a dental cleaning. At this appointment, the dental hygienist takes care of the cleaning and then the dentist comes to check on health concerns that have been noted by the hygienist. The primary focus of the dental hygienist’s role is to help prevent oral health issues like decay, gum disease, and infection. But what exactly does the hygienist do during an appointment? At Hamby Family Dental Center, your Fuquay-Varina dentist, we want to inform you as to the procedures that the dental hygienist performs when you have a cleaning appointment and why so you know what to expect.

Key Responsibilities of a Dental Hygienist

The role of dental hygienists is an important one in your health and well-being. They support the dentist in performing certain key duties that play an integral part in your oral health.

Reviewing Dental and Health History

Before anything is done in the dental office either by the hygienist or the dentist, the hygienist conducts a medical history.

The dental and health history review is critically important for several reasons:

  • To understand a patient’s previous dental work and medical conditions
  • To understand any changes to overall health, prescription medications, or allergies that can affect dental treatment
  • To assess any oral health risks
  • To prevent any medical emergencies

The information obtained is used by the hygienist and dentist to develop a personalized dental treatment plan for the patient.

Screening Patients

In addition to the hygienist collecting health history, they also screen patients for tooth decay and oral disease before the dentist performs any work. This may not take very much time, but it is extremely important in pinpointing areas that the dentist needs to look at.

Conducting Dental Cleanings

The dental cleaning is the main focus for the hygienist. Hygienists use a variety of tools and techniques to remove tartar, stains, and plaque in order to improve their patients’ dental health. Procedures can include taking and developing dental x-rays, removing plaque, scaling, polishing, and applying fluoride, and sealants. Hygienists also teach patients proper oral hygiene techniques.

Plaque Removal

Plaque builds up on your teeth and causes them to look dull and dirty. Over time, the plaque hardens into tartar and can likely cause decay and gum disease. Dental hygienists are trained to remove plaque from your teeth to prevent the development of tartar and to protect the teeth from developing into cavities.


Scaling removes tartar from the gum line of your teeth. Scaling is often a part of the treatment and reversal of gum disease.


Polishing teeth is a standard procedure the dental hygienist performs. This involves using a polishing tool on the teeth after the plaque and tartar are removed. This step is to make the teeth look as white and shiny as possible.

The Difference Between a Dental Hygienist and a Dental Assistant

A dental hygienist has more training than a dental assistant and is more qualified to provide patient care. Dental hygienists must complete a training program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Each state requires that dental hygienists complete specialized training before working in a dental office. A dental assistant is not required to undergo such strict and demanding training. Primarily, the dental assistant is an essential member of the team by preparing the procedure room between patients and providing support services for the hygienist and dentist. A dental assistant can receive on-the-job training.

Contact Us for a Dental Checkup and Cleaning Appointment

Our dental team at Hamby Family Dental Center is knowledgeable and experienced in performing a thorough dental checkup and cleaning for patients of all ages, children and adults alike. Contact us today so we can help you maintain good oral health. Call us at 919-522-2431 or fill out the form below.

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