Do Dental Hygienists do Lips?
As dentistry changes, the lips are getting more attention from dental professionals. Becky Andres, RDH, takes a closer look at lip function and anatomy, common lip problems, and lip care strategies dental hygienists can recommend to patients.
Becky Andres, RDH – Vermillion Cosmetics Dental Education Director
Nov 1st, 2019 – Published in RDH Magazine
As dental hygiene students, we were exposed to all kinds of facts, statistics, and charts. We memorized muscles, nerves, and microbiology. In our newness to the dental world, we felt like we knew all we needed to know. But as time passed, we came to understand that it was imperative to complete continuing education. Doing so helped us keep up with changes in dentistry, expanded our knowledge beyond what we learned in school, and helped us better care for our patients.
One aspect of oral health that many hygienists are less familiar with is the lips. Let me pose a question to you: Do hygienists do lips? Until recently, I would most likely say no. But with the recent surge of lip care education and lip products in the dental market, this is all about to change, and we don’t want to get left behind.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at lip function and anatomy, common lip problems, and lip care strategies that we as dental hygienists can recommend to patients.
Lip function and anatomy
The lips surround the oral cavity and help in the formation of sounds, words, facial expressions, and mastication. The upper lip, or labium superior oris, extends from the base of the nose superiorly to the nasolabial folds laterally to the free edge of the vermilion border inferiorly. The lower lip, or labium inferior oris, extends from the superior free vermillion edge superiorly to the commissures laterally, and to the mandible inferiorly.1 The philtrum, or medial cleft, is the midline indentation in the middle area of the upper lip. It runs from the top of the lip to the nose.2 The double curve of the upper lip is often referred to as Cupid’s Bow. The peaks of the bow coincide with the philtral columns, giving a prominent bow appearance to the lip.3 The vermillion is the colored part of the lips. It is made up of highly vascularized, nonkeratinized stratified squamous epithelium. The vermillion has no hair follicles or salivary, sweat, or sebaceous glands. It is very thin, having only three to five layers of skin, compared to the 16 layers on the face. The vermillion border separates the lip or vermillion from the surrounding skin.4
Common lip problems
Cheilitis simplex and chapped, cracked, and dry lips are the common lip problems experienced by patients and the population in general. These common lip problems can occur in almost every season and can be caused by weather, touching, licking of lips, certain medications, and dehydration. Symptoms include dryness, flaking, scales, sores, swelling, cracks, and bleeding.
As mentioned previously, lips do not contain oil or sweat glands. This leads to them drying out faster than other areas on the body and leaves them more vulnerable to sun, cold, and wind.6 Patients who are mouth breathers are at high risk for dryer lips. Moisture is continually stripped away as these individual blow air over their lips day and night.
As we age, our lips naturally become more dry. Our upper lip loses volume, and the vermillion border and lower lip begin to become thinner and exhibit more fine lines due to a decrease in collagen.7
Lip care strategies
As hygienists, we pass right by the lips every time we enter the oral cavity. We have our sights set on the work we need to get done inside the mouth, and we often give less attention to the surrounding extraoral region. But frequently, a closer inspection of the lips can reveal common issues such as chapping or flaking that need to be addressed.
Stressing prevention is one thing that hygienists do on a regular basis when it comes to oral hygiene, so why not add that same critical thinking and passion to include lip care prevention? It is much easier to maintain the health of our lips rather than try to restore them back to health. Prevention and education concerning our lips can easily be included into a routine hygiene visit and be addressed naturally. Education should include why our lips are more susceptible to dryness and cracking, how to avoid these issues, and how to take care of the lips on a daily basis.
A nutrient-rich lip scrub one to two times a week can improve lip health in various ways.
As more and more dental practices are including cosmetic treatments, discussing the lips and the aging process is relevant. Exfoliation is both beneficial and necessary in any lip care routine because it removes dead skin cells. As we age, the rate at which our body sheds these dull and dead skin cells slows down significantly, thus creating a dry, flaky, and rough build up on the lip surface.7 Using a nutrient-rich lip scrub one to two times a week is a reliable way to gently exfoliate the lips and will also help to speed up the lips’ cell-shedding process. Moving the scrub around the lips in small circular motions on the upper and lower lip allows for the lips to be free of dead skin cells and also be massaged, which circulates blood flow to the area.
Massaging the lips also promotes collagen production.8 Collagen is an abundant protein in the body that is responsible for keeping our body, bones, skin, and lips held together, giving it strength and structure.9 For our lips, this allows them to look filled out and smooth. As we age, our body produces less and less collagen naturally, which leads to wrinkles and thinner lips.10
The process of using the lip scrub in a circular motion on the lips helps to rejuvenate damaged skin cells and combat environmental pollutants and conditions that impact skin texture. A hyaluronic acid lip mask is also recommended to be used after the lip scrub. A mask with this ingredient can condition the lips, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and naturally plump your lips. The lips need hydration as well as conditioning.
To hydrate the lips daily, a vitamin E based serum should be applied. We know that Vitamin E contains antioxidant properties that focus on protection of skin cells.11 Before bed is an ideal time to apply the serum, because at night the air around us tends to dry out the lips. Not only is it crucial to hydrate the lips with a natural lip serum, it is important to hydrate the skin and lips by drinking water.
As dental professionals, we certainly recognize our patients’ intraoral needs and the role that we play in their oral hygiene and dental needs. It is important that as dentistry evolves, and as new ways to treat our patients develop, we need to educate ourselves and be willing to perform new treatments. Introducing our knowledge about the extraoral lip region and strategies about lip care will only benefit our patients and possibly prevent common lip problems and discomfort.
- https://emedicine medscape.com/article/835209 updated 10/23/13, author: Babak Jahan-Parwar; MD Chief Editor, Keith Blackwell; MD
- medicineplus.gov, US National Library of Medicine
- Educalingo.com, Cupid’s Bow
- www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov, National Center for Biotechnology Information
- www.healthline.com, What causes chapped lips and how to treat them, Dec. 17,2017, written by Kristen Moore, medically reviewed by Christine Frank, DDS
- www.pmfajournal.com, anatomy of the aging lip, the pmfa journal, Dec 1, 2016, author: Sotirios Foutsizoglou
- melaniesutrathada.com, reasons to exfoliate your lips, April 5, 2017
- https://www.westlakedermatology.com, Dec. 27, 2016
- www.cheekyphysique.com, 5 easy ways to plump your lips without injections, Aug 20, 2018, by Cheeky Physique
- https://www.news-medical.net>health>what-is-collagen, June 5, 2019
- vermillion cosmetics: vermillion cosmetics clinical lip scrub, vermillion cosmetics lip mask, vermillion cosmetics vermattifed serum
Becky Andres, RDH, is a practicing clinician with 25 years’ experience. She is the director of dental education at Vermillion Cosmetics, makers of the LiPro System, vegan lip scrub, lip masks, and vermattified lip serum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.