Career Development

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Find out what a dental hygienist does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a dental hygienist.

Dental hygienists are health professionals who work to prevent and treat oral diseases. They provide routine dental care, including cleaning and examination, as well as education on how to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Dental hygienists may also be involved in more intensive procedures such as removing plaque or tartar buildup, treating gum disease, and providing other treatments for oral health issues.

Dental Hygienist Job Duties

Dental hygienists have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Examining patients’ teeth and gums during appointments to identify areas of concern or risk of disease
  • Preparing patients for appointments by recording their medical history and reviewing their medication list
  • Administering local anesthetics to patients prior to performing procedures such as teeth extractions or deep cleanings
  • Providing education about oral health topics such as brushing techniques, flossing, eating habits, and dental care products
  • Cleaning patients’ teeth and removing plaque and tartar buildup with specialized tools such as ultrasonic instruments and hand scalers
  • Conducting tests to identify signs of oral cancer or other disease processes in the mouth
  • Recording information about patient care procedures and results in patient charts
  • Maintaining equipment and supplies used in the dental office, such as sterilizers and dental materials
  • Recommending treatment plans for patients with dental problems, including providing instructions on home care and diet modifications

Dental Hygienist Salary & Outlook

Dental hygienists’ salaries vary depending on their level of education and experience, the type of employer, and the geographic location of their job.

  • Median Annual Salary: $82,500 ($39.66/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $105,000 ($50.48/hour)

The employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade.

The primary reason is the increase in the aging population. As people age, their teeth and gums are more susceptible to disease and decay. Dental hygienists will be needed to provide preventive care for older patients with these problems.

Dental Hygienist Job Requirements

A dental hygienist typically needs to have the following:

Education: Dental hygienists need at least an associate’s degree to practice. They can earn their degree from a two-year community college or a four-year university.

Dental hygienists can also earn a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene science. This four-year program includes both classroom and clinical instruction.

Training & Experience: Most dental hygienists complete their training through an accredited dental hygiene program. These programs typically last two years and include classroom instruction and clinical experience. Students will learn about topics such as dental anatomy, patient care, periodontics, pharmacology, radiography, dental materials and ethics. They will also receive hands-on training in the form of clinical practice.

Certifications & Licenses: A dental hygienist must be licensed in the state in which they practice. Requirements for licensure vary from state to state, but most include passing the National Board of Dental Hygienists Exam.

A dental hygienist can also earn additional certifications to increase their job prospects and expand their knowledge base.

Dental Hygienist Skills

Dental hygienists need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication: Communication is the ability to convey information to others in a clear and understandable way. As a dental hygienist, you must communicate with patients, dentists and other dental staff. You must also be able to explain procedures and treatments to patients and answer any questions they may have.

Organization: Dental hygienists must be able to prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively. They often have many patients to see in a day, so they need to be able to plan their work accordingly. This also means keeping their treatment rooms organized and clean.

Adaptability: Dental hygienists must be able to adapt to changing circumstances and new challenges. They may work in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, schools and public health clinics. They may also work with a variety of patients, including children, adults and seniors.

Compassion: Dental hygienists are compassionate professionals who care about their patients’ well-being. They understand the importance of their role in maintaining their patients’ oral health and work to educate them on how to maintain their own oral health.

Technological skills: Dental hygienists use technology to help them perform their job duties. They use computers to enter patient information, use scanning equipment to take images of patients’ teeth and use various types of software to help them diagnose patients. They also use technology to keep track of patient information and treatment plans.

Dental Hygienist Work Environment

Dental hygienists work in clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated dental offices. They work closely with dentists and other dental personnel to provide quality dental care to patients. Dental hygienists typically work full time, although some may work part time. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate patients’ schedules. Dental hygienists may be exposed to infectious diseases and to hazardous materials, such as x-ray film and chemicals. They must take precautions to protect themselves and their patients from these risks.

Dental Hygienist Trends

Here are three trends influencing how dental hygienists work. Dental hygienists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Growing Demand for Dental Hygienists

The dental hygiene profession is growing rapidly, as more and more people are realizing the importance of oral health. This means that there is a growing demand for dental hygienists, who are responsible for providing preventive care services such as teeth cleaning and fluoride treatments.

Dental hygienists can take advantage of this trend by becoming certified in additional areas, such as dental implants or cosmetic dentistry. They can also focus on developing relationships with other professionals in the dental community, such as dentists and orthodontists, to create a network of resources that can help patients achieve their dental goals.

More Focus on Preventative Care

As dental hygiene becomes more focused on preventative care, dental hygienists will need to develop new skills and expertise.

One area where dental hygienists can focus their efforts is on educating patients about how to keep their mouths healthy through proper diet and toothbrushing habits. In addition, dental hygienists can also focus on helping patients manage any dental conditions they may have, such as gum disease or cavities.

A Greater Emphasis on Patient Education

As dental hygiene becomes more focused on patient education, dental hygienists will need to learn how to effectively communicate with patients.

This requires not only excellent communication skills, but also an understanding of what patients want and need to know. Dental hygienists can utilize this trend by becoming experts in dental care and treatment options, so that they can provide patients with the information they need to make informed decisions.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist career offers many opportunities for growth and advancement. As you progress in your career, you may want to specialize in a particular area of dentistry, such as orthodontics or oral surgery. You may also want to become a clinical instructor or educator, which would allow you to teach other dental professionals about the latest techniques and technologies.

In addition to advancing your career, you can also help people by volunteering your time and expertise. Many organizations need volunteers to provide dental care to underserved populations. This is an excellent way to give back to your community while continuing to learn and grow as a dental hygienist.

Related: How to Write a Dental Hygienist Resume

Advancement Prospects

Dental hygienists with an associate degree can advance their career by obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene. With further education, dental hygienists can become dental hygiene educators or researchers. Some dental hygienists may also become dental assistants or office managers.

Those interested in research may wish to obtain a PhD in dental hygiene or a related field such as oral biology. With a PhD, dental hygienists can work in academia as researchers or professors.

Dental Hygienist Job Description Example

We are looking for a Dental Hygienist to join our team! The Dental Hygienist will be responsible for providing quality dental hygiene care to patients. This position will require excellent clinical skills, as well as strong communication skills to build relationships with patients. The ideal candidate will be a team player with a positive attitude and a commitment to providing the best possible care to patients.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Perform dental prophylaxis, periodontal scaling, root planing, debridement, and polishing
  • Expose, process, and interpret diagnostic dental radiographs
  • Educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain their oral health
  • Assist the dentist in providing direct patient care, including but not limited to: taking medical histories, charting conditions of decay and disease, providing preoperative instructions, and performing postoperative checks
  • Select, mix, and place materials on teeth for preventive, therapeutic, and restorative purposes
  • Remove cement from crowns and bridges, as well as sutures
  • Administer local anesthetics and nitrous oxide/oxygen analgesia
  • Take impressions of teeth for study casts and dental prosthetics
  • Perform office management duties such as scheduling appointments, maintaining records, and handling billing and insurance claims
  • Adhere to all OSHA, state, and federal regulations regarding infection control in the dental office
  • Maintain a clean, safe, and organized work environment
  • Complete continuing education courses to keep abreast of new developments in the field of dental hygiene

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Completion of an accredited dental hygiene program
  • Current state license as a dental hygienist
  • CPR certification
  • Strong communication, customer service, and time-management skills
  • Ability to work well under pressure

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Associate’s degree or higher
  • Bilingual (English/Spanish)
  • 2+ years of experience as a dental hygienist
  • Experience with electronic health records (EHR) systems

Similar Jobs


What Does an Actuary Do?

Back to Career Development

What Does a Quality Assurance Manager Do?