Last Updated 13 Jan 2021

The Dental Hygienist and other Members of the Dental Team

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In any given dental office you should expect to find a dentist, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and office support staff. Depending on the type of office, you might also find a dental specialist or a dental therapist. Dental laboratory technicians are also members of the dental who are usually employed in a dental lab, not a dental office. Each of these dental team members play different roles and have different responsibilities. It is important to note that no one’s roles and responsibilities are more important than anyone else’s. A well-functioning dental office requires every member of the team contributions. With that being said, it is important for each member of the team to have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

It’s not uncommon for people to think that the dentist plays the most important role. The dentist does play many roles, and does have a great deal of responsibility. However, their roles and responsibilities are not the most important. In fact, they are of equal importance to everyone else’s working in the office. The common roles of all dentist include, “diagnosis and treatment of dental disease or trauma, consultation with and referral to dental specialists, and prescribing of medications” (Landry, 2006). It is important for dentist to understand their role because they are the team member responsible for administering curative oral care to the patients.

When a dentist can’t provide a patient with the curative oral care they need, they will refer the patient to a dental specialist. A dental specialist is a dentist who has received additional post graduate training in a specified area of dentistry. They treat patients who need more specialized treatment, treatment a general dentist can’t provide to them. Areas a dentist could specialize in include endodontics, prosthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, etc. It is important for a dental specialist to understand their roles and responsibilities because they are the member a dentist turns to when a patient needs treatment beyond their own skill set.

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The practice of dental therapy is still fairly new here in North America. The dental therapist mainly provides preventive and rehabilitative oral care to children. They fall somewhere between a dental hygienist and a dentist. They can do everything a hygienist does, plus a little bit of what a dentist does. Traditionally, dental therapist have worked in the public sector, like schools, providing basic oral healthcare for children (Nash, 2012). It is important for a dental therapist to understand their roles and responsibilities because they are the member of the team that provides oral healthcare to children and sometimes adults in underserved areas. They also see and treat patients who have special needs.

Dental assistants also play important roles as members of the dental team. “They are able to assist the dentist, therapist, and hygienist both by preparing and passing instruments, preforming procedures that are preparatory to therapy, and in completing procedures that have been initiated, thus permitting team members to perform more efficiently and effectively” (Nash, 2012). It is important for a dental assistant to understand their roles and responsibilities because they are the team member the dentist and hygienist depend on to help them perform procedures successfully.

The dental laboratory technician is the team member that makes the dental prosthetics some patients require. Some prosthetics they are responsible for making include crowns, bridges, and dentures. “It helps to have artistic ability and good manual skills if you want to be a dental lab technician” (Reese, 2003). It is important for dental lab techs to understand their role because they are the member the dentist depends on to make prosthetic appliances they need to provide their patient with quality treatment.

The office support staff consist of a number of people. There is an office manager, and then there are receptionists. Depending on how big the office is, there could only be one receptionist or multiple receptionists. These members are responsible for several administrative task. The office manager is responsible for making sure the office runs as efficiently as possible. They might manage inventory, finances, and staff schedules.

The receptionist might schedule appointments, gather patient information, handle insurance claims and payments, and maintain patient records. It is important for the office support staff to understand their roles and responsibilities because they are ultimately the members responsible for ensuring that the office runs smoothly on the administrative side, so that the other members of the team can focus on patient care.

And finally, we have the dental hygienist. The dental hygienist is the member of the team that examines the patients oral health, take x-rays, clean teeth, and provide other preventative measures for their patients. It is important for the hygienist to understand their role because they are the member responsible for ensuring the healthiness of the teeth and gums. They are responsible for removing plaque and tarter from the teeth, before it has the chance to turn into something worse.

It’s important that every member of the dental team support the efforts of every other member. Doing so allows the members to value one another’s roles, creating a much more positive work environment. Ways in which a hygienist could support the efforts of the dental team is to be an effective leader and motivator, offer praise, and thoroughly communicate with other members.

References

  • Landry, C. (2006). Work roles, tasks, and the information behavior of dentists. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(14), 1896-1908.
  • Nash, D. (2012). Envisioning an oral healthcare workforce for the future. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 40(2), 141-147.
  • Reese, S. (2003). Lending a Hand for Good Dental Health. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers, 78(7), 43-50.

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