Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral diseases, such as gingivitis, and provide preventive care, including oral hygiene.
What they do
Dental hygienists typically do the following:
- Remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
- Apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
- Take and develop dental x rays
- Assess patients’ oral health and report findings to dentists
- Document patient care and treatment plans
- Educate patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly
Dental hygienists use many types of tools—including hand, power, and ultrasonic tools—in their work. In some cases, they use lasers. Hygienists remove stains with an air-polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a power tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists also use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems.
Dental hygienists talk to patients about ways to keep their teeth and gums healthy. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They may also advise patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral care devices.
The tasks hygienists may perform, and the extent to which they must be supervised by a dentist, vary by state and by the setting in which the dental hygienist works. A few states allow hygienists with additional training, sometimes called dental therapists, to provide some restorative services, such as extracting primary teeth and placing temporary crowns.
Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. When taking x rays, they follow procedures to protect themselves and patients from radiation.
How to become a Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists typically need an associate degree in dental hygiene. Programs usually take 3 years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.
Dental hygienists typically need an associate degree in dental hygiene; they may also get a bachelor’s degree. Master’s degree programs in dental hygiene are available but are relatively uncommon. A bachelor’s or master’s degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.
Dental hygiene programs are often found in community colleges, technical schools, and universities. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, accredits more than 300 dental hygiene programs.
Programs typically take 3 years to complete and offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Areas of study include anatomy, medical ethics, and periodontics, which is the study of gum disease.
High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in biology, chemistry, and math. Most dental hygiene programs also require applicants to complete prerequisites, which often include college-level courses. Specific requirements vary by school.
The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $76,220 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $103,340.
Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages. As the large baby-boom population ages and people keep more of their original teeth than did previous generations, the need to maintain and treat teeth will continue to drive demand for dental care.
Similar Job Titles
Dental Hygienist; Dental Hygienist, Mobile Coordinator; Education Coordinator; Hygienist; Implant Coordinator; Pediatric Dental Hygienist; Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH); Registered Dental Hygienist, Part Time Clinical Faculty
Radiologic Technologist, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse, Radiologic Technician, Dental Assistant, Medical Assistant
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Dental Association
- American Dental Hygienists' Association
- National Dental Hygienists Association
- Sigma Phi Alpha
Magazines and Publications
- Registered Dental Hygienist Magazine
- Dimensions of Dental Hygiene
- Today’s Registered Dental Hygienist
- Journal of Dental Hygiene
Dental hygienists provide dental care that promotes good oral health and helps prevent or repair problems with patients’ teeth. A typical day involves examining patients’ teeth and gums for cavities and disease, cleaning and polishing teeth, and teaching patients proper brushing and flossing techniques. Hygienists wear gloves, safety glasses and surgical masks, and follow strict safety procedures at all times. Most take x-rays of patients’ teeth. To be successful in this profession, you must be detail-oriented, and have the ability to work well with your hands. You can expect daily interaction with many different people from all walks of life. While almost all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, about half work part-time. Since dentists often hire hygienists for a few days per week, some hygienists work for more than one dentist to reach full-time hours in the field. An associate degree in dental hygiene is required for this profession, and usually takes three years to complete. All states also require dental hygienists to be licensed. In this career, you’ve got your patient’s back… or rather, their teeth!
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org