Okay, so I couldn’t find any really cool dental hygienist quotes other than, “You only need to floss the teeth you wanna keep,” and maybe Rodney Dangerfield’s “I told my dentist my teeth are going yellow. And he told me to get a brown tie." (Obviously, Rodney’s DDS didn’t have a hygienist in the house.)
And sometimes, just like Rodney, dental hygienists just don’t get enough respect. None other than Johnnie Depp once reflected “Trips to the dentist — I like to postpone that kind of thing." (Anyone seen Jack Sparrow’s choppers lately?) Call me crazy, but who wants to hang out with folks who don’t have a semi-religious type respect for the word “hygiene?” I mean, think about it. If you’re against hygiene or even neutral, please take five steps back while I hold my breath (did you know periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that’s transmissible within the mouth and between individuals?)
Oh yeah, and even Joseph Heller, author of "Catch-22," once said “We do have a zeal for laughter, give or take a dentist.” And that one really hurts. But Heller didn’t say “give or take a hygienist.” And there are no catch-22s or loop holes when it comes to maintaining good oral health.
Thing is, dental hygienists should be some of your best friends forever. Hygienists battle periodontal disease on a daily basis, even making the experience pleasant. And these BFFs can actually help you live longer while they’re steering you away from some interesting life experiences like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, oral cancer and low-weight or premature births (research has shown a relationship between periodontal disease and these systemic concerns.) If you need any proof, please read the surgeon general’s report from 2000 or the latest report from March of 2011 correlating oral health and general health.
And one more thing; there’s a difference between teeth whitening and tooth whitening. Periodontal disease is a leading cause of teeth loss. Hard to believe, but in the U.S., 30% of the population 65 years and older have zero teeth while another 30% have less than half the maximum tooth count. Your hygienist is definitely your strongest anti-periodontal disease warrior and (again) if you know what’s good for you, should be your newest best friend forever.
So what if, as of today, you have good oral health — and tomorrow you woke up with no teeth? I can’t imagine what that would be like, can you? And I’m a freakin’ dentist for cryin’ out loud! Eating, speaking, and smiling moratoriums? Don’t know about you but I enjoy all of that stuff.
Dental hygienists are knowledgeable specialists who can be your best advocate when it comes down to living longer and with a higher quality of life. And, they are really nice, highly-educated people. You should get to know them: if you do, you’ll love ‘em.
Hygienists are able to monitor and treat periodontal disease the same way your physician monitors and treats hypertension and diabetes. All three diseases are chronic and episodic and all three are related. On the negative side, all three diseases make the others worse. On the plus side, monitoring the diseases can happen by the numbers and effective, consistent monitoring can ward off health disasters. Folks who effectively manage periodontal disease actually live an average of seven years longer than those who don't.
Today’s hygienists have awesome clinical training opportunities. In our practice (in addition to what your dad’s hygienist used to do), every hygienist can administer local anesthetic, use gentle ultrasonic instrumentation, take digital x-rays, place preventive sealants and varnishes, use intra-oral cameras, record blood pressure readings, place local antibiotics, perform oral cancer exams and use the laser as a non-surgical tool (and I know I left all kinds of other stuff out.)
Hygienists are also trained to teach and listen. And therein is the best chance to prevent disease. Dentistry is such a preventive health discipline that not taking advantage of periodic visits makes any resulting health challenges all the more unnecessary and tragic. Dental hygienists are like missionaries; the good ones have a passion for making a difference only because they know they really can.
In the U.S., periodontal disease casts a wide shadow over us all. Half the deaths are heart disease-related. Oral cancer claims an American life every hour. And, 80 percent of diabetics also have periodontal disease. Only 50 percent of the population has consistent preventive dental visits. only 14 percent of the population know they’ve ever had an oral cancer exam.
Dental insurance plans often pay for all preventive services. And many dental practices like ours offer their own plans to help answer today’s financial objections.
In the end, a trip to the hygienist is way more than a “cleaning.” The Johnnie Depp cost of postponing preventive trips to the dentist could be seven years of life while the investment for the visit might amount to a week or two of latte’s.
Just as with shaving, uh, wearing clean socks and showering, the hygiene choice is totally yours.