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You’re no longer limited to visiting a dentist’s office the next time you need your teeth checked and a good cleaning. In fact, you can have it done in the comfort of your own home.
Registered dental hygienists in most provinces — excluding P.E.I., N.W.T. and the Yukon — are now authorized by provincial governments to assess a patient’s teeth and provide dental hygiene care without the presence of a dentist.
“The bottom line is that dental hygienists are recognized as primary health-care providers, and they can have their own, independent practice settings,” says Arlynn Brodie, president of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association and a dental hygienist since 1988. “They can also offer mobile services to remote, rural populations, group homes, seniors and others who are housebound.”
It hasn’t always been this way. Just five years ago, if you lived in Ontario and wanted your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist, you would first have to be examined by a dentist who would then give the “order” to the hygienist to initiate cleaning.
Historically, dentistry in Canada has been comprised of mostly male dentists overseeing an all-female staff of hygienists, who often doubled as “office girls.” Although the number of women becoming dentists has increased over the years, 97 per cent of dental hygienists are female.
In 2007, Ontario amended the Dental Hygiene Act to remove the ties between hygienists and dentists. There are now about 400 independent dental hygienists across Canada.
One of the main benefits for patients is the cost. Although the province sets fee guidelines, it’s up to each dental hygienist to decide how much to charge. In Ontario, for example, fees charged by independent hygienists are about 30-per-cent lower than those charged by dentists’ offices for the same service.
In addition to cleaning teeth, hygienists can give fluoride treatments, administer local anesthetic for dental hygiene or treatment, apply pit and fissure sealants to the top surfaces of teeth, and do scaling and root-planing.
Want to find a registered dental hygienist? Check the database on the College of Dental Hygienists website.
Timeline on the changing role of dental hygienists
1947: Ontario became the first province to legally recognize dental hygiene as a profession.
1951: The University of Toronto began offering a two-year diploma program in dental hygiene. The first class consisted of six students.
1963: The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association was formed by a few U of T alumni who felt it was time to have their own national voice.
1993: Ontario became the first province to recognize dental hygiene as a self-regulated profession.
2007: Ontario amended the Dental Hygiene Act to permit registered hygienists to clean a patient’s teeth without the presence of a dentist.
Source: The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association