So, What is a Dental Hygienist?

If you are thinking about working in the dental field, you may be wondering what is a dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a well-trained and licensed professional who provides preventive dental services such as teeth cleaning or sealing a child’s teeth.

Job Duties

Most of the country’s 183,000 plus dental hygienists work in dental offices. Along with teeth cleaning and sealing, they have other duties such as:

  • Preparing treatment rooms between patients
  • Removing cement from crowns and bridges
  • Documenting dental hygiene services and patients’ medical and dental histories in their chart
  • Ordering supplies and verifying the order when it arrives
  • Performing preventive maintenance on dental equipment
  • Educating patients on proper oral health such as how to floss correctly
  • Answering patient questions or providing them with detailed post-operative instructions when needed
  • Examining gums visually and by feel to check for sores and signs of disease
  • Exposing and processing dental x-rays
  • Placing and removing matrices, rubber dams, and temporary restorations

Common Traits of a Dental Hygienists 

In order to best work with patients of all ages and backgrounds, successful dental hygienists are:

Positive – Most patients would rather receive treatment from a hygienist who is friendly, outgoing, and energetic, especially if they’re scared.

Detail-oriented – It’s incredibly important for dental hygienists to pay close attention to detail when working inside a patient’s mouth.

Sturdy on Their Feet – It’s necessary to have good physical stamina when working in this field as dental hygienists spend much of their day standing, bending, and using repetitive movements.

Passionate – Dental hygienists who are passionate about good oral health are often good role models to their patients, especially children. They accomplish this by helping patients change their bad dental habits by teaching them new behaviors.

Working Conditions

Along with private dental practices, dental hygienists are able to provide clinical services in a host of other settings such as nursing homes, state and federal government facilities, faculty practice clinics, schools, and Indian reservations. Most employers offer flexible hours, and it’s common for dental hygienists to only work two or three days a week.


All dental hygienists must complete a formal dental hygienist program that’s accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Depending on the program, students will earn a Certificate in Dental Hygiene, an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene, or a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. Depending on the program, students may take classes such as: Dental Hygiene and Practice Theory, Periodontology, Oral Biology, Legal Responsibility in Dentistry, Local Anesthesia, Community Oral Health, Dental Pharmacology, Nutrition in Dentistry, Dental Materials, and Oral and General Pathology.


Laws differ from state to state, but one thing they have in common is that all dental hygienists must be licensed or registered. One way to do this is to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. It’s a computerized timed test that consists of 350 multiple-choice questions. The exam is only administered three times a year in March, July, and December, and a passing score is 75. Candidates are mailed their results about six to eight weeks after they take the exam.

Job Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more people are receiving preventive dental care which means new positions are on the rise across the nation. The mean average salary was $71,970 in 2014. Location, education, and experience are all factors when it comes to determining salary. While most in this profession have an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Dental Hygiene, those who complete the extra two years of schooling required to earn a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene will likely have a better earning potential.

If you have any questions about becoming a dental hygienist, feel free to contact us.