As a dental hygienist at Windsor Preventive Dental Care in rural Maine, Liz’s duties vary from simple cleanings to scalings, radiographs, applying sealants, and periodontal work. Liz is also qualified to administer anesthesia prior to procedures by the dentist, Dr. Powell.
“There are a lot of things I love about this job, but forming a relationship with a patient is one of the best,” Liz says. “A lot of patients we see every six months to a year. You learn little things about them… they become almost like family. Also, we bring in many people who haven’t seen a dentist for a long, long time. As a hygienist, one neat thing is putting a patient through scaling and root planing, getting them back on track so they can see how far they’ve come. I love that — it’s very rewarding.”
“At some offices you would just do cleanings all day,” Liz says, “but here we handle a lot of very different appointments. I appreciate the variety.”
7:00 a.m. the entire office huddles together to plan any coordinated efforts the day is likely to bring. This may mean a particular patient needs an x-ray, or that everyone will have to help a particularly anxious patient feel safe and welcome.
A dental hygienist usually receives each patient’s charts a full day in advance. By the time the patient arrives, everything is prepared and ready, and any special conditions for their care have been accounted for.
7:20 a.m. Liz makes sure to restock any supplies that may be low, including the children’s prize drawer.
7:30 a.m. The day’s first appointment arrives: a fourteen-year-old girl and her mother. Liz inspects the girl’s teeth and, seeing no signs of disease or decay, scrapes off what little plaque has accumulated. She then buffs the teeth and applies fluoride. The entire process takes a little less than half an hour.
With up to twelve appointments per day, it’s important for the hygienists to stay on schedule. Efficiency and careful time management are key.
8:00 a.m. The next patient is a 42-year-old man known to be particularly anxious about his scheduled visit. He’s greeted warmly and made as comfortable as possible, and, immediately prior to his cleaning, he’s administered a bit of nitrous oxide via a face mask.
The patient’s mood is transformed: he almost instantly relaxes and submits to the scraping, cleaning, and even x-rays, which the dentist will examine for signs of disease and decay.
Finally, after a brief educational overview of the virtues of flossing, the once-anxious patient is on his way home.
9:30 a.m. Next appointment is a twelve-year-old boy. He gets a standard cleaning first, and because the hygienist can see that a new set of molars have begun to emerge in the back of his mouth, she paints some dental sealants into their grooves to protect the new teeth from cavities.
10:00 a.m. More cleanings.
1:00 p.m. Liz prepares the day’s last patient to have a cavity in a molar filled. Before the dentist can begin work on the patient, the Liz numbs the area with a local anesthetic by injecting it into the patient’s gums. Once the patient is comfortable and ready, the dentist enters and begins work. Liz observes and assists. Halfway through, when the patient begins to show visible discomfort, Liz injects additional anesthetic to ensure that the patient experiences no pain during the rest of the procedure.
2:00 p.m. Day is done! Time to go home.