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Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Many people have the misconception that hygienists are simply the opening act for dental exams. They see it as a step they have to get through in order to see a dentist. The fact is, hygienists, play a critical role in patient health.

Not only do they work to clean and protect a patient's oral health, but they are also one of the first lines of defense when it comes to airway management as well.

dental hygiene for children

This is what it means to be a LifeGuard for your patients. Taking the time to do an exam on your patient's airway, as well as their teeth, is vital. Taking the time to examine a patient's airway or to ask questions about a patient's lifestyle will reveal underlying issues, such as airway issues, eating disorders, or sleep health, than might otherwise go unnoticed.

Often times airway issues can be discovered and treated before they cause long-term damage to a child's health.


As part of every visit, a hygienist has the responsibility of examining a patient's airway and opening a conversation about airway management. When working with pediatrics, the conversation should also include the child's parent.

Here are some questions to ask your patient during their cleaning and initial examination:

  • When you wake up, is your jaw sore or are you tired?

  • How does your throat feel when you wake up in the morning?

  • Do you find that you get tired throughout the day, regardless of whether or not you are physically active?

  • Do you have trouble swallowing?

  • Do you have trouble focusing during the day or at school?

  • Has your child been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, or anxiety?

  • Does your child have difficulty breathing through their nose?

  • Does your child breathe through their mouth during the day or while sleeping?

Some signs of airway issues can be identified simply by examining a patient's appearance while talking with them. The diagram below identifies a few of the most common signs:

signs of airway issues

Registered Dental Hygienists may not be clear to “diagnose” conditions that they see in their patients, but they are responsible to report any findings to a dentist before the patient exam with the dentist.

Hygienists play a key role in identifying situations that put a patient's health at risk, such as sleep apnea, airway issues, possible eating disorders, or tongue-ties.


Dental hygienists are the front line of defense when it comes to oral patient care. Their job is to understand their patient's health from a comprehensive standpoint --- which will require asking probing questions and taking extra time to look for signs of airway issues.

To find out more, click the image below to take the first step toward becoming a LifeGuard for your patients!

dental hygiene for children

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