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Top 10 Tools a Dental Hygienist Can’t Go Without

While in dental hygiene school you will be taught to use a wide array of hand instruments and sonic or ultrasonic scalers. When you graduate you will not use all instruments that you have been taught on a daily basis. This article will discuss the top 10 tools that dental hygienists use many times a day.

Hand Scalers

Scalers are essential to every dental hygiene appointment.  They are bladed, sharp pointed, metal instruments that are used with great precision to remove hard and soft deposits from teeth.  They are curved in a way that allows easy adaption to tooth surfaces.  There are anterior and posterior scalers.

Curettes (Gracey and Universal)

Gracey curettes are area-specific and are used to remove calculus (tarter) deposits from below the gumline. The universal curettes have cutting edges that are perpendicular to the terminal shank and can be used on either the mesial or distal part of the tooth.  Curettes have rounded toes and are used subgingivally to remove any hard or soft deposits from the root surface.

Ultrasonic Scaler

The use of an ultrasonic scaler will make the calculus and stain removal much easier for a dental hygienist.  It will save the hygienist from putting so much strain on her hand and wrist as well.  Most patients also find the ultrasonic scalers very comfortable.  The ultrasonic scalers are not sharp and have no cutting edge; therefore, tissue trauma is less likely.  With ultrasonic scalers the inserts use either magnetostrictive or piezo-electric technology that provides a quick, comfortable, effective way to remove soft and hard calculus deposits from above and below the gumline.

Rubber Cup Polisher

Most patients will feel as though this is the part of the appointment that is actually cleaning their teeth.  The flavored polish gives the patient that fresh just came from the dentist clean mouth feeling.  A rubber cup-polishing tip is placed on an air driven hand piece and the small rubber cup is filled with polish.  The rubber cup is gently used around all surfaces of the teeth and flanged slightly under the gumline.  The polish will help remove surface stains and any remaining soft plaque; however, both the stain and plaque have most likely been removed already with the ultrasonic and hand scalers.  Some hygienists actually prefer to polish first to remove the soft plaque before scaling.


You will be surprised that even after a good, thorough cleaning you may still remove some soft plaque with the floss!  It is an essential part of the dental appointment and it the best way to clean interproximally.

Saliva Ejector

Gone are the days of having the patient spit in the cuspidor!  As a dental hygienist you will suction the extra saliva and water accumulation for the ultrasonic scaler from the patient’s mouth.  Avoid backflow of contaminants by not allowing patient to suck on the saliva ejector.  These are disposable and discarded after every patient.

Air/Water Syringe

Some offices use plastic disposable syringes and some use sterilizable metal ones.  These will fit into a water/air hand piece that is attached to your dental unit.  The air is used to dry teeth to be able to see better when taking intraoral camera pictures and when its essential to have dry enamel during procedures such as placing sealants.  The water is used to rinse out the polish. The water is also used throughout the appointment as necessary to rinse out blood and loose deposits that you do not want the patient to swallow.

X-ray Sensor (or film)

In order to check for cavities between the teeth and to help diagnose any dental problems that a patient is having routine dental x-rays are taken.  It varies from office to office on what they feel is necessary.  Many will take the bitewing x-rays once a year and a panoramic x-ray every 3-5 years.


If you work in a practice that has gone digital, then your computer will be vital to your day.  Everything from taking x-rays, charting, periodontal probing depths, intraoral camera pictures, treatment plans, and appointment books will be on your computer.  The 2 main dental software companies are Dentrix and Eaglesoft.  Both are widely used and will be an essential part of your day.

Models for Patient Education and Intraoral Camera

One of the most important things we do for our patients is teach them how to properly care for their teeth and educate them on their dental needs.  Models of teeth (typodonts) are a great tool to demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques.  To show patients areas of tarter build up, decay, cracked fillings, etc the intraoral camera is a wonderful educational tool.  It works just like a tiny digital camera on the end of a wand that is able to take detailed, close up pictures of teeth and surrounding soft tissues.  You are able to show images to your patients so they can fully understand the condition of their oral cavity.

Dental Hygienists also perform many more duties not mentioned here such as placing sealants, applying fluoride, applying desensitizing agents, etc.

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