What does a Dental Hygienist do and how do I become one?

Everyone knows that no one likes going to the dentist, because it is usually because something is wrong. But with regular checkups and a good dental hygienist, the experience can be practically painless.

Dental hygienists are healthcare professionals that work in a dentist’s office to perform cleanings, take x-rays, and molds of the teeth to prepare the patient for the dentist. Dental hygienists are responsible for seeing patients for their regular cleanings, and will stay with the patient throughout a dental appointment.

Some of the tasks dental hygienists perform are, the removal of plaque and stains, taking x-rays, applying fluorides and antimicrobials, flossing, and patient education. Dental Hygienists work independently with patients most of the time, and coordinate with dentists to make diagnoses of conditions and to address immediate problems.

Importantly, dental hygienists educate the patient. Proper oral care today is crucial to prevent problems down the road. They give recommendations from best ways to floss, the proper way to brush your teeth, and which brands of sugar free gum, toothpaste, or electric toothbrushes to buy.

When it comes down to it, going to a dentist’s office means spending time with a dental hygienist. They are the first and last person you talk with once you are brought into the office, and they focus on preventative care. In a small dental practice, it is not unusual to have 3-5 dental hygienists working and seeing patients for an hour each, with the dentist coming in to see each patient for 10 to 15 minutes.


Working as a Dental Hygienist:

To become a dental hygienist, you need at least an Associates degree in dental hygiene. Bachelors and masters degrees are also available, but are commonly only taken by people who are interested in doing research or working outside of a dental office. After you get your degree, you will need to complete a licensing exam from the National Board Dental Hygiene and pass the state clinical board exams.

Being a dental hygienist was ranked #2 in the US News and World report rankings of best healthcare support jobs because of the combination of high flexibility and work-life balance with the growing demand for dental hygienists. As a profession, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 19% growth rate in dental hygiene making it a good career choice for the future.



For more information see:


Quick Facts: Dental Hygienists
2015 Median Pay $72,330 per year
$34.77 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Associate’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 200,500
Job Outlook, 2014-24 19% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 37,400

*Table taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics website

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