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Essential skills profile

This profile contains a list of example tasks that illustrate how each of the 9 essential skills is generally performed by most workers in this occupation. The levels of complexity estimated for each task are ranked between 1 (basic) and 5 (advanced).

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Dental Hygienists (3222)

Dental hygienists provide dental hygiene treatment and information related to the prevention of diseases and disorders of the teeth and mouth. They are employed in dentists offices, hospitals, clinics, educational institutions, government agencies and private industry.

Reading Help - Reading
  • Read memos from others in their organizations to keep abreast of day-to-day business. (1)
  • Read letters from dentists and specialists describing patients' conditions and dentist-recommended treatments. (2)
  • Read dental equipment manuals for operating instructions. (2)
  • Read indications for use, precautions and proper handling and storage procedures on the labels of products such as topical fluoride. (2)
  • Review completed medical health history forms, progress notes and comments in patients' periodontal records to identify and monitor their status, progress and needs. (2)
  • Scan dental product promotional materials to find the products' applications, benefits and costs. (2)
  • Read medical textbooks and pharmaceutical references to learn about medical conditions and identify drug interactions that may limit or preclude certain dental treatments. (3)
  • Read dental hygienist association newsletters and articles from websites to find out about continuing education opportunities, resources such as reports about changes in work pattern trends or Canadian clinical dental hygiene practices. Dental Hygienists may also read articles from health care organizations or regulatory authorities on topics such as smoking cessation. (3)
  • Refer to the Canadian Dental Hygienist Association Handbook and provincial Dental Hygiene acts to review the Code of Ethics, practice standards, confidentiality requirements, competency standards and continuing education requirements. (3)
  • Read lengthy reports and clinical journal articles to stay informed about new trends, procedures and research findings that affect overall dental hygiene practice. Dental hygienists evaluate the relevance of these materials to their dental hygiene practices. (4)
Document use Help - Document use
  • Read lists such as price codes for dental treatments, directories of dentists and dental specialists, and tables comparing the characteristics of anaesthetics. (1)
  • Refer to pictures and diagrams of teeth to explain dental conditions and treatments to patients. (2)
  • Enter appointment and activity details in schedules and logs. For example they enter appointment details such as patients' names into schedules and calendars. Community hygienists record the number of school visits, fluoride applications, referrals, group presentations and children's ages in activity logs. (2)
  • Scan health history forms completed by patients and their parents for names, dates, medical conditions and other data needed to complete patients' files and inform treatment decisions. (2)
  • Scan the labels on medication and chemical containers for concentrations, dosages, warnings, precautions, side effects and directions for use. For example they may find dosages and check expiry dates on anaesthetic labels before administering the drugs or they may scan x-ray developer fluid labels for hazard symbols and storage instructions. (2)
  • Interpret radiographs of patients' mouths to identify abnormalities or changes and discuss future treatments with dentists. (2)
  • Interpret charts and graphs presented in research journals and reports. For example, they may observe increases and decreases in graphs which illustrate the incidence and trends of dental caries in specific populations over time. (3)
  • Enter patients' names, contact information and treatment details into clinic records and insurance forms. (3)
  • Enter dates, pocket depth measurements, tooth mobility codes and occlusal findings on periodontal charting forms during assessments and treatments. They also mark the dentition diagrams on these forms to note missing teeth, caries or other abnormalities. (4)
Writing Help - Writing
  • Write brief notes and reminders on schedules, calendars and treatment records. For example, they write reminders about new patients' concerns and peculiarities on daily schedules. (1)
  • Write longer letters to family physicians, specialists, insurance companies and parents. For example, they write referral letters to specialists, outlining patient findings and requesting specialist consultations. They also write letters to parents describing proposed treatment plans and to insurance companies in order to explain treatment and justify coverage. The writing is routine and presents factual information using precise technical vocabulary. (2)
  • May write instructions, pamphlets and other materials to inform and educate patients about dental diseases, treatments and care. For example, some dental hygienists who work in community health programs prepare handouts for new mothers emphasizing the proper care of babies' teeth. (2)
  • Record details of discussions with patients on their record forms. For example, they may write short notes about payment and treatment plans. They have to be precise and accurate as the notes are later used to prepare formal agreements and contracts. (2)
Numeracy Help - Numeracy Money Math
  • Check the invoices generated by dental management systems and take payments from patients. (1)
  • Approve payments for supplies. They confirm that products, quantities and prices match purchase orders. They multiply quantities delivered by unit prices, add taxes and calculate totals to ensure that suppliers have not made mistakes. (2)
  • May calculate travel claims. They multiply distances travelled by per kilometre rates to determine travel costs, add meal expenses and calculate total claims. (2)
Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math
  • Plan multi-treatment schedules to deliver dental services over several appointments. They monitor patient appointments for adherence to scheduled times and make schedule adjustments to minimize waiting times. Dental hygienists in some community health programs plan and schedule clinics and presentations for schools and seniors' facilities. (1)
  • Compare costs of treatment options to help patients with limited financial resources choose among treatment alternatives. (2)
  • May monitor departmental budgets. For example, they review quarterly statements to ensure they have used all available funding, and may adjust budgets to allow the purchase of required materials by allocating funds from other categories. (3)
Measurement and Calculation Math
  • Take measurements with probes, rulers and measurement guides. For example, they measure periodontal pockets using probes to identify gum disease and use rulers to measure the spaces between the teeth to see if the teeth have moved. Dental hygienists in some community health programs measure 'overbite,' the distance that the upper teeth go past lower teeth; and 'over jet,' the horizontal projection of upper teeth beyond the lower teeth. They also measure teeth to determine where to place brackets for braces. (2)
  • Measure angles to line up x-ray machines so that the intended areas are captured. For example, they use bitewing, periapical, occlusal and panoramic x-rays to capture pictures of teeth, gums, tooth roots, mouth roof and floor, jaws, sinuses and nasal areas. On some occasions they use protractors to measure angles for conducting orthodontic evaluations. (3)
Data Analysis Math
  • Compare measurements over time to evaluate patient status. For example, they compare patients' periodontal record measurement data from one appointment to the next appointment to monitor the progression of receding gums. (2)
  • May analyze dental program utilization data in some community health settings. For example, they count the number of screenings, fluoride treatments and sealants applied in school clinics to determine the average number of services provided to schools annually. (2)
  • May collect and analyze dental health data for specific populations. For example, hygienists working in public health programs may collect data about students' decayed, missing and filled teeth to identify schools where dental health is at greatest risk. They compare this data over time and across schools to monitor trends and identify priorities. (3)
Numerical Estimation
  • Estimate the time required to complete dental procedures. They consider patients' treatment needs and their own experiences conducting similar procedures. If hygienists don't estimate appointment times carefully, dentists lose money and patients are inconvenienced. (2)
  • Estimate amounts of supplies such as tooth brushes to order. They estimate the numbers required over specified time periods, according to the numbers of patients to be seen and their knowledge of typical supply usage. For efficiency, it is important to have critical supplies on hand at all times. (2)
Oral communication Help - Oral communication
  • Make telephone calls to schedule patients' appointments. (1)
  • Request that office staff perform duties such as making telephone calls, placing supply orders or scheduling school visits. (1)
  • Interact with co-workers and colleagues to coordinate job tasks, discuss common work problems and exchange information about dental hygiene and opinions about professional matters. In some contexts, they may discuss the effectiveness of community dental health programs. (1)
  • Interact with suppliers to explain unusual orders and to learn about the features, costs and benefits of new products such as tooth whitening strips. (2)
  • Discuss children's dental health with parents. They explain examination results in simple, appropriate language, outline treatment procedures and provide advice about dental hygiene. If hygienists fail to communicate effectively, parents may not understand treatment and continuing care information and children's dental health will suffer. (3)
  • May share information about patients with their dentists. They discuss clinical findings, treatment plans and problems noted during examinations. Clear communication and accurate conveying of information is important to prevent patients from suffering discomfort and possible adverse reactions. (3)
  • May facilitate group discussions and make presentations to school children, teachers, parents, co-workers and colleagues about dental health topics such as proper dental hygiene and summaries of dental hygiene research studies. Dental hygienists may select visual aids such as dental posters and teeth models and prepare presentation outlines, speaking notes and PowerPoint slides to promote interest and aid understanding. They promote interaction and deal with questions from group participants. If they don't communicate effectively, they can lose credibility and dental education opportunities. (3)
  • Speak with patients of all ages and various nationalities to understand their needs, provide dental health instruction, explain treatments and procedures, answer their questions and reassure them. They talk about the importance of regular dental flossing, deal with children's emotional outbursts and explain complex dental procedures in understandable terms. They adapt their communication styles and language to best meet the needs of patients. (3)
  • May present results of scientific studies such as the effects of antiseptic mouth rinses on oral health to their peers at professional development events such as the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association's Annual Conference. They may interpret and summarize study results and prepare recommendations so that their peers can apply the findings to their dental hygiene practices. Presentations must be prepared to answer challenging questions and justify their analyses and recommendations. Hygienists who do not communicate effectively with their peers lose credibility. (4)
Thinking Help - Thinking Problem Solving
  • Experience scheduling problems when treatments take longer than expected, when patients arrive late for appointments, staff members call in sick or bad weather causes appointment cancellations. Dental hygienists apologize for delays they cause and offer to reschedule appointments. To ease congested waiting rooms, they may ask for assistance from co-workers or may work faster to get the work done in shorter time periods. (1)
  • Observe that patients are extremely fearful and have irrational concerns about dental treatments. Dental hygienists review the rationale and treatment approaches with patients. They assess how much treatment patients can handle within each visit. They may postpone or reschedule treatments or suggest that patients consider sedation. (2)
  • Encounter angry and disruptive patients. Dental hygienists remain calm, allowing patients to express their anger and when suitable, presenting patients with alternate treatment options. If patients become verbally abusive and display inappropriate behaviours, dental hygienists must ensure the safety of other patients and may call security to escort the disruptive individuals off the premises. (2)
  • Discover patients who present unusual or unexpected symptoms or conditions. For example, when they discover abnormal tissue during patient examinations they consult dentists immediately. They note their concerns and ask for dentists' opinions about appropriate follow-up actions and care. (2)
  • Encounter patients, dentists and other health care professionals who disagree with their professional opinions. When dental hygienists and dentists disagree about the appropriateness of patient treatments, they write, date and sign detailed observations in patient records and closely assess patients at subsequent visits. They minimize the likelihood of conflicts with dentists by presenting their concerns to them in a professional manner and choosing to work with dentists who have standards and values similar to their own. (3)
Decision Making
  • Decide which instruments to use to conduct dental procedures using well-defined dental hygiene practice standards. (1)
  • Decide which dental treatments to administer. For example, they may decide to apply sealants to children's molars to prevent tooth decay. Although sealants are helpful to prevent tooth decay, they should not be applied unnecessarily since they are costly and once initiated, must be reapplied regularly. Dental hygienists follow standard criteria for applying sealants and consider their previous experience to guide decision making. (2)
  • Decide the type, intensity and frequency of treatments. For example, they decide whether to schedule cleanings at three, six, or nine month intervals depending on patients' oral health, oral hygiene and financial means. They are guided by their professional training and practical experience when determining recall and treatment schedules. (2)
  • May decide where to place the brackets for braces on patients' teeth according to well-defined dental hygiene practice standards. If dental hygienists place brackets incorrectly, there could be significant loss of money, time and credibility of the dental hygienists as well as their practices. (2)
Critical Thinking
  • Evaluate patients' oral and dental health and identify treatment needs. They examine the anatomy of the mouth and look for calcium deposits, bleeding and infections. They examine the status of the gums, tongue, mouth floor, lymph nodes and glands to identify abnormalities and changes from previous visits. They note any changes, discuss them with patients and communicate any immediate concerns to both patients and dentists. Accurate assessments are important so that patient dental problems are identified and addressed as soon as possible. Dental hygienists in community settings may conduct dental risk assessments to target the most high-risk children for treatments. (2)
  • Evaluate the appropriateness and risks of particular anaesthetics, antibiotics and fluoride treatments for patients. They consider patients' overall health, the length of appointments and the location of the teeth being treated before conferring with dentists to confirm their assessments. (2)
  • May make preliminary assessments of patients' suitability for orthodontic treatments. They consider the results of orthodontic evaluations, patients' oral hygiene and patients' motivation to undergo treatment. Dental hygienists share their findings with dentists who make the final assessments of patients' suitability for orthodontic treatments. (2)
  • Assess the need for fluoride applications. They consider patients' past restorative histories and the amounts of root exposure to determine if fluoride should be applied at home as well as in dentists' offices. Fluoride treatments are important for preventive dental care. (2)
  • May assess the effectiveness of community dental health programs. They may analyze and monitor service utilization and dental status statistics to determine if there are changes in children's dental risk level scores. They may also consider input from parents, teachers, dentists and colleagues. Gathering and assessing quantitative and qualitative data is essential to the continued support of many public health programs. (3)
Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Dental hygienists working in their own practices plan and schedule their own appointments. They may coordinate their work with dentists closely, allowing patients to see both during single clinic visits. Dental hygienists often revise work schedules to deal with emergencies and unexpected events such as missed appointments or storm days that cancel school dental clinics. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Dental hygienists working in schools and clinics plan the work of their receptionists and assistants, based on the number of appointments they must plan and schedule. Those working in community settings may assist in the organizational planning of community dental health programs. For example, they may select schools to target, set the number of clinic days required and specify the types of services to be provided at each school. (2)

Significant Use of Memory
  • Recall patients' names, customs, interests and experiences to establish rapport.
  • Recall patients' medical and dental treatment histories before initiating treatments.
  • May commit to memory procedure codes to invoice patients for procedures rendered.
  • May remember the names of community contacts, such as nutritionists, to facilitate communication with them.
Finding Information
  • Find information about dental and periodontal diseases by reading textbooks, journals and other references, talking to colleagues and carrying out research. They frequently use the Internet to access materials at remote libraries and dental health databases. (2)
Digital technology Help - Digital technology
  • Use word processing software. For example, they write referral letters to health professionals, letters to parents and educators and create educational handouts and simple forms such as school visit forms. (2)
  • Use graphics software. For example, they may use PowerPoint to prepare presentations for school visits and use graphics of dental posters and teeth models in their presentations. (2)
  • Use spreadsheet software. For example, they may use Excel spreadsheets to prepare schedules or to present fee guides for their patients. (2)
  • Use database software. For example, they use dental management practice software to enter patient data such as dental treatments provided, dental caries noted and patient appointments scheduled. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they use e-mail to correspond with co-workers and colleagues about patient and professional development matters. They communicate with members of professional development committees to plan continuing education workshops. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use Internet browser software to access the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association website and obtain information about the dental hygienists' annual national convention and obtain copies of the national association Code of Ethics. (2)
Additional information Help - Additional information Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Dental hygienists work with dentists to provide oral care and dental hygiene. They assess patients' oral health and conduct dental hygiene treatments independently; however, assessment conclusions are often approved and confirmed by dentists. Dental hygienists in some community health programs coordinate work teams, such as school dental clinic teams and work with other health professionals to provide health education sessions. Dental hygienists may be assisted by dental assistants and administrative staff. (2)

Continuous Learning

Dental hygienists set their own learning goals and take advantage of a variety of continuing education activities. They take continuing education courses offered by their professional associations or learning institutions and may participate in accredited study groups. They read medical textbooks, clinical journals and newsletters and access medical, dental hygiene and dental hygiene supplier Web sites. Dental hygienists are registered by their provincial regulatory bodies. In some provinces and territories they must complete mandatory continuing education credits to maintain certification. (3)

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