What does a Dental Hygienist do?

Median Pay $74,070
Growth Rate 20%
Citation Retrieved from BLS.gov

Dental hygienists clean teeth, take x-rays, apply sealants, and give oral-care guidance. Basically, a dental hygienist works with patients during the entire dental process, from beginning to end. They also work closely with the dentist and assist as needed. They also document and record the patient’s information to ensure accurate records are kept.

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How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Most dental hygienists earn a two-year degree at a community college. Some states require a student to graduate from an accredited program in dental hygiene and pass a state exam. Dental hygienist earn an Associates degree after completing these programs. Most employers prefer applicants to have experience in dental hygiene and it would also be helpful to have some computer experience as well.

Job Description of a Dental Hygienist

dental hygienist working

A dental hygienist assistant works with patients under the supervision of a dentist. Among cleaning teeth, taking X-rays, and educating patients on oral care, they also sterilize dental instruments and prepare the treatment area by setting out required instruments or materials. Some dental hygienist assistants may prepare materials used for casting teeth or create temporary crowns.

According to each states’ regulations, the dental hygienist assistant may be able to do coronal polishing, fluoride application, sealant application and topical anesthetics application. He or she also sets up billing and payments for the patient. One normally would work in a dentist office on a full-time basis. A dental hygienist generally has a normal working week of forty hours.

Dental Hygienist Job Posting

Let’s look at a job description posted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This job announcement is looking for a person to perform the following responsibilities:

Customer Service:

  • Shows courtesy, respect, and a positive attitude for patients, co-workers and the public.
  • Provides assistance to customers with questions or concerns, provides service recovery.

Patient Care:

  • Sets up operatory for planned dental procedure and cleans dental unit for timely turnover.
  • Handles instruments safely, accurately, and efficiently.
  • Sharpens Instruments as needed.
  • Manages patient’s oral hygiene education.
  • Reviews medical history and consults with specialist as needed.
  • Educates veterans on tobacco cessation, caries and perio-disease prevention.
  • Manages and treats simple and medically complex patients.
  • Provides routine oral prophylactic care to include application of fluoride solutions.
  • Provides gross debridement, deep scaling, and curettage and root planning procedures.
  • Cleans dental prostheses, fixed and removable.
  • Manages dental recall system, referring patients to the doctor for additional care when needed.
  • Identifies and address (obtaining x-rays and provider for exam) patients needing periodic oral evaluation.
  • Applies desensitizing and sealant materials.
  • Takes impressions for fluoride carrier trays.
  • Administers topical anesthetic agents.
  • Administers local anesthetic (per State license).
  • Administers local anti-infective agents per direction of dentist.
  • Accomplishes all procedures within standard infection control protocols.

Patient Education

  • Provides patient education appropriate to the veteran’s needs and oral condition.
  • Prepares and provides individual and group oral health care instruction to inpatients, outpatients, and caregivers.

Dental Imaging

  • Images are characterized by diagnostic quality, accurately oriented and exposed.
  • Dental imaging safety techniques are utilized, and retakes are minimized.
  • Infection Control and Equipment Sterilization.
  • Demonstrates proper infection control procedures in setting up and cleaning up operatory.

This position was posted to run 12/17/2018 until 01/15/2019 with a salary range of $54,641 to $71,035 per year on USAjobs.gov (link opens in a new tab). USAjobs.gov is an official website of the United States government and part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Free Resources for Students and Teachers

The American Dental Association (link opens in a new tab) has resources to help those interested in a dentistry career. Specifically, they have information about the Dental Hygiene career field (link opens in a new window). For elementary teachers, there is even an Elementary Toolkit.

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Dental Hygienist Video Transcript

Dental hygienists provide dental care that promotes good oral health and helps prevent or repair problems with patient’s teeth. A typical day involves examining patient’s teeth and gums for cavities and disease, cleaning and polishing teeth, and teaching patient’s 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 patient’s 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 with dentist 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’s degree in dental hygiene is required in 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.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Hygienists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-2021.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.