What does an oral hygienist do?
Oral hygienists are preventive oral health professionals, providing people with advice and information on good oral health. They work alongside and under the instruction of dentists to help prevent dental problems. In performing the oral hygiene process of care, the oral hygienist assesses the patient’s oral health to check for disease, other abnormalities and disease risks; develops a diagnosis based on clinical findings; formulates treatment care plans; performs clinical procedures; educates patients regarding oral hygiene and preventive oral care; and evaluates the outcomes of strategies and procedures provided.
An oral hygienist uses a range of dental instruments to:
- remove plaque
- scale and polish teeth to help prevent gum disease
- apply antibacterial agents to reduce decay
- give local anaesthetic under the supervision of a registered dentist
- apply temporary coatings and sealants.
They also maintain sterile conditions and occasionally take X-rays. They could work in general dental practice, the community dental service and in hospitals.
Elna Schutee | ORAL HYGIENIST | The Implant Clinic
Why did you choose to be an oral hygienist?
I chose this profession because it offers opportunities to educate yourself and to help the community to achieve good oral health.
How did you qualify?
I trained for two years at university to be an oral hygienist, graduating with a diploma. I subsequently studied at university again, to do extended functions. The two-year diploma has now been phased out and a three-year degree curriculum that is in line with international standards is in place. The Board for Oral Hygiene and Dental Therapy is now in the process of drafting honours and master’s degrees as postgraduate options, such as an Honorarium in Oral Health.
What makes for a ‘good’ oral hygienist?
A love for people is probably the characteristic most required in this profession. The desire to educate is also high on the list as it is of utmost importance in this line of work.
Describe a typical day
That depends entirely on the type of practice one has decided to work for. There are many specialities in dentistry and each one requires different actions. The main focus as an oral hygienist is to educate and instruct the public regarding their oral conditions and health. Cleaning (scaling and polishing) is also part of the daily routine. The oral hygienist has to be able to recognise oral conditions, treat them and refer patients to the necessary specialists. Good oral health is a vital link in achieving good total body health.
What makes your work worthwhile?
I love working with people and helping them to reclaim their oral health. I’m passionate about educating and sharing my knowledge with the patient, it really is exciting.
Goals for the future
The goal for the future in oral hygiene is to have our own independent private practices, which will give us the opportunity to open our own businesses. Globally, our vision is to bring oral health and education to every citizen of the world.
Share a career highlight
The highlight in my career was when I represented South Africa at the International Symposium for Oral Hygiene to present a bid to host an international congress in Cape Town.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Recognise your gifts and abilities and choose the direction you want to go in. The options are general private practice, specialised private practice, state health, or working and lecturing in the various training institutes across the country.
Your job in three words
Education • Passion • Health
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
A diploma or degree combining practical and theoretical training is required in order to become an oral hygienist. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a diploma or degree course is a prerequisite to studying these courses. Once qualified, graduates must register with the Interim Medical and Dental Council of South Africa in order to practice legally.
WHERE CAN I STUDY?
University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Oral Hygiene
University of the Witwatersrand
Diploma: Oral Hygiene; Bachelor of Dental Science
University of the Western Cape
Bachelor of Oral Health; Diploma: Oral Health
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Diploma: Oral Health
University of Limpopo
Diploma: Oral Health