A dental hygienist is an oral health care professional who works independently and/or alongside dentists and other dental professionals handling different aspects of dentistry. Dental hygienists are an indispensable asset to the dentist, patients, and the dental office. Before they begin their oral health career, they acquire education and training from an accredited school or dental hygiene program. An accredited school or program allows them to obtain licensure after graduating and register with a dental association.
In clinical training, dental hygienists are taught a variety of oral health care disciplines, ranging from cleaning teeth to office management. After graduating, they possess the skills and training to work in various clinical settings, including general dental practices, private sectors, public health clinics, nursing homes, and specialty practices, such as pediatrics and periodontics dentistry. Additionally, dental hygienists can acquire employment at hospitals to provide services and care for patients.
Anyone interested in becoming a dental hygienist has three degree options – associate, bachelor and master’s degree. Typically, anyone can enter into the oral health care field with only an associate’s degree from an accredited school or dental hygiene program. Bachelor’s and master’s degree are rare. Typically, these two degrees are for those who are interested in teaching, research, public clinical practices or school health programs.
Students in high school who are considering a career as a dental hygienist should take courses in biology mathematics and chemistry. Depending on the school, many dental hygiene programs require that applicants have at least completed one year of college.
Once a dental hygienist begins working in an office setting, they become a part of a team of dental professionals that includes the dentist, specialists and other oral health care professionals. As highly-trained professionals, there are specific duties and responsibilities that dental hygienists have to perform in a clinical setting. However, duties and responsibilities of dental hygienists vary from state to state because each state has different regulations regarding what they are allowed to do. Some of these duties may include:
- Examining patients teeth (examining patients for oral disease, including gingivitis)
- Cleaning teeth (removing hard and soft deposits from patients teeth)
- Patient screening procedures (reviewing health history, assessing oral health conditions, dental charting, oral cancer screening and head and neck inspection)
- Using preventative materials (applying dental sealants and fluoride to patients teeth)
- Performing tests (taking and developing patient x-rays)
- Counseling patients (educating patients about good nutrition, brushing, and flossing)
- Diagnose patients
All in all, dental hygienists educate patients, perform specific dental care and helps dental and clinical facilities flow at a steady pace.
Being a dental hygienist is a challenging and rewarding career with several advantages. They have an opportunity to provide beneficial services that help people. Another advantage is the flexibility of choosing part-time and full-time employment options and the availability of evening and weekend hours. Additionally, dental hygienists have the option of working in various settings.
As a financially rewarding career, dental hygienists can make good money full-time as well as part-time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly half of dental hygienists made an annual wage of over $70,210 in 2012. The low 10 percent made an annual wage of less than $46,540. while the top earning 10 percent earned an annual wage of $96,280.
Some employers offer dental hygienists benefits, such as sick leave, vacation time and a retirement plan. However, benefits offered by employers may differ.