What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?
Good dental care is a team effort, and skilled dental hygienists play a vital role.
Hygienists provide preventative oral care under a dentist's supervision. They clean patients' teeth, take X-rays and examine patients' mouths for signs of gingivitis (gum disease) and other problems. Hygienists also teach patients how to maintain good oral health, including proper brushing and flossing.
Patients often spend more time with a hygienist than they do with any other person in the dental office. It’s important that hygienists are able to work well with many different types of personalities. They educate patients about the importance of dental care for preventing cavities and tooth loss. They also are the key connection between patients and the dentist who signs off on recommended treatment plans.
Hygienists are the beating heart of a well-run dental practice. If you have a calm, compassionate presence and this essential role sounds like a good fit, keep reading to learn more.
- Review patient history
- Clean patients’ teeth by removing stains, calculus (tartar) and plaque (the hard and soft deposits) from all teeth surfaces
- Apply protective substances to the teeth such as sealants and fluorides
- Take and interpret dental X-rays
- Teach patients good oral hygiene strategies, such as flossing
- Conduct gingivitis and oral cancer screenings
- Counsel patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health
- Make impressions of patients' teeth
- Document patients' treatment plans
How To Become A Dental Hygienist: FAQs
What is required to become a dental hygienist?
Most hygienists earn an associate degree in dental hygiene. Training is available at community colleges, trade schools and universities. (This focused training is one of the reasons this career is included in SkillPointe’s list of top jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.) Students may also earn a bachelor’s degree if they want to go into research, teach or do clinical practice in a public health setting.
Most dental schools’ programs include time in the classroom and lab plus hands-on clinical practice.
After graduating from an accredited dental hygiene program, hygienists must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, a written exam. Hygienists will also need to earn a license from the state dental board, which requires passing a clinical exam. Specific licensing requirements vary by state. SkillPointe provides a licensing database. (See link below.) The American Dental Association (ADA) website provides a directory of state dental boards.
What other qualifications are required?
Most employers require hygienists to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
How long does it take to become a dental hygienist?
Programs typically take three years to complete. With additional training, hygienists can extract primary teeth, place or remove temporary crowns and other restorative services. However, each state regulates which tasks are permitted. The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) maintains a state-by-state list of allowed tasks.
What does RDH mean?
RDH stands for registered dental hygienist. It means the hygienist has passed the national and state exams mentioned above and is fully licensed to practice.
Dental hygienist vs. dental assistant: What’s the difference?
A dental hygienist is involved with hands-on patient oral care. A dental assistant does administrative tasks and provides support to the patient, the hygienist and the dentist.
Is there a demand for this job?
There’s plenty of opportunity for a well-trained dental hygienist. Demand for hygienists is expected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Check out this video from Teeth Talk Girl about other reasons you may want to become a dental hygienist.)
Where and when do hygienists work?
Most work in dentist offices, but they are also needed in public dental clinics, schools, nursing homes and correctional facilities. Many hygienists work part-time, but some work full-time or split their time between two practices.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful candidates tend to have these traits:
- Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
- A calm and reassuring manner
- Good dexterity for using hand, power and ultrasonic tools
- Good problem-solving skills
The bottom line on becoming a dental hygienist: This in-demand, high-paying job is a good opportunity. It takes a special person to be the dental hygienist that patients request time and time again. If you think you have the qualities and the drive, check out the dental hygienist training options on SkillPointe.
Dental Hygienist License and Certification Requirements
A license or certification may be required to get a job in this career. Each state determines the requirements, license fees and application process. SkillPointe can help you get the information you need quickly. Enter your ZIP code to get started.