Good dental health is a team effort. Dental 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 and other diseases. Hygienists also teach patients how to maintain good oral health, including proper brushing and flossing.
State rules dictate what services they are legally allowed to perform. About half of all dental hygienists work part-time.
- Take dental X-rays
- Clean patients’ teeth by removing stains, calculus and plaque (the hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth
- Apply protective substances to the teeth such as sealants and fluorides
- Teach patients good oral hygiene strategies
- Conduct oral cancer screenings
- Counsel patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health
- Make impressions of patients' teeth
- Set up appointments for the patient
- Document patient treatment plan
An associate degree is required to become a dental hygienist. It typically takes three years to complete the training, which is available at community colleges, trade schools and universities. Some students get a bachelor’s degree. Programs include classroom, lab and clinical time.
A license from the state dental board is required, and specific requirements may vary by state. The American Dental Association website features a directory of state dental boards.
- Have good communication skills
- Have a calm and reassuring manner
- Are detailed-oriented
- Have good dexterity
- Have strong problem-solving skills