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
- General and Oral Pathology
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
- Oral Radiology
- Pre-Dental Hygiene
- Anatomy of the Neck and Head
- Dental Health Safety
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:
- 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.