What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

During your dental visits, you may have been treated by a dental hygienist instead of a dentist as they perform many of the same duties.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

These vary based on state law, but are likely to include:

  • Cleaning a patient’s teeth to remove plaque and tartar buildup
  • Reviewing charts of existing patients before their appointment
  • Cleaning the treatment room after each patient
  • Cleaning a patient’s teeth to remove plaque and tartar
  • Sealing a child’s teeth to prevent cavities and toot decay
  • Patient screening procedures such as oral cancer screenings and examining the head and neck
  • Making impressions of patients’ teeth that will be used by the dentist to evaluate a patient’s treatment plan
  • Teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene care such as brushing and flossing
  • Monitoring a patient’s blood pressure and vital signs
  • Preparing dental charts
  • Counseling patients on proper nutrition which is vital for maintaining healthy gums and teeth
  • Scaling teeth above and below the gum line to remove hard and soft deposits
  • Recording patients’ dental and medical health histories

Where do Dental Hygienists Work?

Private dental practices are the number one employer, but dental hygienists can also find employment at:

  • Nursing homes and hospitals
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Health departments and health-related institutions
  • Correctional institutions
  • Insurance companies’ dental claims department


Top Five Reasons to Become a Dental Hygienist

Flexible Schedule – Most dental hygienists set their own hours and over half work two or three days a week. Some are employed by more than one office which means they work one or two days per week at each one.

Great Salary – According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median national average salary is $71,970. Salaries will vary based on location, education, specialization, and experience.

Job Stability – The BLS predicts a thirty-three percent job growth until 2022, due to the fact people are living longer and there is a higher demand for preventive dental services.

People-oriented Atmosphere – This is a great career for those who enjoy spending a lot of time with people. It’s important for dental hygienists to make patients feel as comfortable as possible during their appointment.

Advancement – Dental hygienists who obtain a bachelor or master’s degree will have advancement opportunities such as management or teaching positions, or research.


Like most careers, dental hygienists first need to earn a high school diploma or GED before applying to a dental hygienist program. A “C” average or better is an admission requirement for all accredited dental hygienist programs.


Certificate programs are meant to supplement a student’s existing associate degree. Only core courses are offered, and may include:

  • Oral microbiology
  • Dental Hygiene Practice and Theory
  • Histology
  • General and Oral Pathology
  • Periodontology

Associate Degree

This is the most common degree earned by dental hygienists because it only takes two years to complete and it leads to a great salary and benefits. Some of the courses found in an associate’s program are:

  • Dental Pharmacology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Psychology
  • Oral Radiology
  • Pre-Dental Hygiene
  • Anatomy of the Neck and Head
  • Dental Health Safety

Bachelor’s Degree

Most dental hygienists who obtain a bachelor’s degree want to one day advance beyond a dental practice. It takes four years to complete, and courses are likely to include:

  • Anesthesia
  • Dental Hygiene Practicum
  • Public Health Dentistry
  • Clinical Periodontics
  • Dental Hygiene Radiology

Do Dental Hygienists Need a License?

Yes, every state along with the District of Columbia require dental hygienists to obtain a license. Most take the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination that requires applicants to answer 350 questions on a variety of dental hygiene topics.

To learn more about the dental hygiene profession, please contact us for additional information.