Are hygienists inches away from providing quality esthetic exams?

April 28, 2006
This checklist helps you close the gap to providing quality esthetic care to patients.

By Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS
Director, RDH eVillage

The scope of dental hygiene duties continues to expand. With this, our knowledge of esthetic dentistry and comprehensive oral care must also expand.

As clinicians, our goal is to support patients' efforts in maintaining their teeth for a lifetime. Esthetics encompasses the entire patient — mouth, body and mind. This complex balance is comprised of the public's obsession with looking youthful and beautiful while demanding services that improve oral health. One of our professional goals should be to eradicate infection (periodontal or caries) while treating the whole person.

Astute clinicians recognize the shift that esthetic dentistry has brought to the role of dental hygienists. The rise in adhesive materials, stronger micro-hybrid resins and porcelain restorations make it possible for dentistry to restore both the function and beauty of teeth. With this comes many new challenges, and the examination by the hygienist now encompasses color assessment, esthetic possibilities, and changes and options in daily self-care products.

Armed with this information, hygienists must be conscious of the process of care. Examination and treatment planning must always precede care. Oftentimes in the rush of the day, hygienists begin scaling or polishing prior to completing an exam. Based on assumptions from previous visits and sketchy treatment notes, it is tempting to take shortcuts and "look while I scale" during treatment appointments. To avoid this, commit to the following checklist during each hygiene visit, the sequence of which depends on your appointment flow and what works for you.

Remember INCHES, created by Vicki McManus, RDH.*

I Infection: periodontal disease or dental caries

N Normal tooth structure: wear patterns, abfractions, and damage

C Comfortable chewing functions, bite relationship

H Healthy joints: no pain, normal range of motion

E Esthetically pleasing smile, social well being

S Soft tissue evaluation, oral cancer screening

Metaphorically, the farther an office's pendulum swings towards offering esthetic treatment options, the more health oriented the dental hygiene department should become. Connecting esthetics to more traditional hygiene functions can help hygienists expand their professional horizons and participate in comprehensive treatment planning and care of functional esthetic smiles.

*INCHES- the acumen is credited to Vicki McManus, RDH, Luxury Lab Coats.