Time for a Change? Exploring Orthodontics as a Dental Hygienist

by Liisa Moore, RDH

Orthodontics as a Dental Hygienist

Now, more than ever, we keep hearing and reading about how dental hygienists are leaving the profession. New and ever-changing guidelines, critical Quality Assurance programs, and personal burn-out are adding up and causing dental hygienists to explore other career paths. Before you jump ship on a profession you have spent years in school training for and worked so hard to gain your clients’ trust, consider a different alternative!

Could orthodontics be the change and challenge you are looking for? Orthodontists are just some of the people looking to hire dental hygienists. With more dentists offering orthodontic treatment, there is a higher demand for dental hygienists with orthodontic knowledge and experience. In addition, working clinically as a dental hygienist in an orthodontic office can offer a refreshing change of pace and reignite your passion for dental hygiene. But are they looking to explore non-clinical options? Orthodontic offices commonly have positions such as Treatment Coordinators and Office Managers that they prefer to offer to dental hygienists because of our education, knowledge, and experiences.

A typical day in an orthodontic office is fast-paced and differs from a day in general practice. You will probably notice how most orthodontic offices offer an open-concept design allowing for more social interaction among clients and co-workers. Depending on the day and the office, one dental hygienist can see up to 20 clients daily versus the usual 6-8 in general practice. Typical appointments you will see in a day might include bonding (placing brackets), de-bond (removing brackets) and, of course, all adjustments. Wire changes, bracket repairing, bracket repositioning, and various functional and passive appliances will also fill your day. Clear aligner therapy is gaining momentum, with some clinics only offering clear aligners for treatment.

Clients you will see in a day range in age anywhere from 6 years of age up to clients in their 80s! Client education is different for orthodontic offices. There is a heavy focus on oral hygiene as it is essential for the client’s overall health and the quality of the orthodontic result. Educating your clients on the different types of orthodontic appliances and caring for them is also critical. The doctor will create the treatment plan and prescribe the appropriate mechanotherapy for the client; however, there is a time between the new client exam/consultation and the first clinical appointment. That time allows the client and/or caregiver to think about treatment and formulate more questions they will ask you, the operator, at the meeting. Knowledge of the appliances and treatment plan will give the client peace of mind and make them confident in their choice to proceed with orthodontic treatment for themselves or their child.

Technology in an orthodontic office is ever-changing. Gone are the days of processing radiographs and taking alginate impressions. Digital radiographs and scanners are becoming standard practices in every office. Offices with in-house labs are moving away from plaster and stone models and progressing into 3D printing. Advancements in bonding materials allow operators to use more brackets where bands were once used and new materials for arch wires, extending the time between client appointments and making chair time more efficient. Clear aligners, brackets, and coated arch-wires are expanding orthodontics to clients who want a more discrete treatment plan.

Witnessing the transformations of not only your client’s teeth but their confidence has to be the most rewarding part of working in orthodontics. Knowing you added value to a client’s life by helping them gain a functional bite that now allows them to enjoy foods they have avoided in the past, and seeing the positive self-image that your client has gained as they smile proudly in pictures and in person where they would have hidden their teeth before treatment, makes the profession fulfilling. I highly encourage anyone doubting their career choice or reconsidering leaving dental hygiene work to explore orthodontics. I am confident that if you take the time to learn and implement orthodontic skills, you will feel a new sense of excitement and devotion to dental hygiene practise!

About the Author

Liisa graduated from dental hygiene in 2006 from Canadore College. After graduation, she returned to her hometown of Sudbury and began her dental hygiene career working for a local orthodontist. Throughout her career, Liisa expanded her skills working as a temp in general practice, in an oral surgery office, as an educator, and even owned her clinic. Liisa is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others. She teaches Orthodontics to dental hygienists through rdhu, a Professional Development Centre. www.rdhu.ca for more information.