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Dental Hygienists Work Environment

Working Hours
Working as a trained dental hygienist, you are fortunate to work in a very clean environment with fairly regular hours of operation. Some dentists have evening appointments, but for the most part, the work hours of a dental hygienist is based on a week day, daytime schedule. Since most dentists only hire part-time hygienists, in order to work as a full-time hygienist, you may need to work for more than one dentist. This can be a challenge, since each dentist may have very different ways of running their practices. A good dental hygienist will be flexible and able to acclimate to the individual demands of each dentist they work for.

Dental offices have legal regulations to ensure the cleanliness and sanitation practices of the dentist, the dental hygienists, as well as dental assistants and other office personnel. Dental hygienists learn in their training the importance of eye protection as well as wearing gloves and an over the mouth and nose mask. This is to prevent the spread of infectious disease or illness, which could easily travel from patient to hygienist, to the next patient if these measures were not taken. So working in a very clean, germ conscious office is one positive aspect of working in this profession.

Earning Potential
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for a dental hygienist is $70,000, which is impressive considering that only a two year Associate’s Degree is required to qualify for licensing by the American Dental Hygienist Association (ADHA). Earning potential can be affected if the hygienist only works for one dentist, as most dentists hire only part time hygienists. For this reason, most dental hygienists work for more than one dentist.

People Skills
One of the occupational demands of a dental hygienist is working in an environment that puts them in direct contact with the public. This includes working with people who may not be proficient in English; it also includes working with children. Both of these scenarios require an extensive amount of patience, empathy, and strength of character. If you aren’t good with people, or are extremely shy, or have an intense dislike for squirmy, ill-behaved children, then the job of a dental hygienist is not for you. A dentist office (a hygienist’s work environment) is typically the last place most people want to be. A good dental hygienist understands this and is able to keep the patients calm and cooperative during the visit, helping to ease people’s anxiety which is very commonly associated with dental patients.

Occupational Challenges
As a dental hygienist, you are going to be faced with a number of challenges in your working environment. These are all part of your job description, so of course, you must face them head on and be able to perform well under uncomfortable circumstances. Your job is to have your hands in people’s mouths, which can either be non-eventful if the patient takes care of their teeth or extremely gross if the patient does not practice good hygiene. The challenge is that you must be able to treat both types of patient with the same patience and courtesies, even when it is unpleasant to do so. Another challenge is being straightforward with the patients about their hygiene and daily dental habits, especially if they need to be improved. This advice must be delivered in a gentle but professional manner so that what you say will not offend or upset the patient. A good hygienist will be patient and calm in all situations and be able to enlist the help of the dentist when necessary.

Works Well Under Pressure
The pressure to perform under stressful conditions is part of the work environment for a dental hygienist. A good hygienist will have the ability to remain focused on the tasks at hand even in stressful or distracting situations. They will also be able to maintain control in their working area, like when a patient brings her three children along with her for her appointment. You are working with sharp instruments, in a small space, in a patient’s mouth; if the children get out of hand or the mother isn’t handling them, this puts you in an awkward position. You must be prepared to deal with these types of pressures that exist in your working environment.

As a licensed professional dental hygienist, there is more to your job than scraping plaque off of molars. You must also be able to handle working with the public, deal with language and other communication barriers, handle those patients with poor hygiene and the presence of children while you work. There are many demands asked of you, none of which should affect the quality of your work. A good dental hygienist knows this and remains professional at all times while in the workplace.