Dental hygienists are licensed dental professionals who treat patients using a variety of preventative oral health care techniques.
What is a Dental Hygienist’s Job Description?
Dental hygienists have many day-to-day activities that may or may not be performed under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist. They include:
- Preparing the treatment room prior to a patient’s appointment in accordance with procedures and protocols
- Preparing dental patients for their exam and/or treatment by seating and draping them
- Answering patients’ questions
- Maintaining dental instruments by sterilizing and sharpening them
- Cleaning a patient’s teeth by applying fluorides and other cavity preventing measures
- Educating patients on proper oral health or post-operative care
- Detecting oral diseases by using a probe to look for periodontal disease or completing an oral cancer screening
- Completing dental prophylaxis by cleaning deposits and stains from teeth as well as below the gum margins
- Removing cement from bridges and crowns
- Fabricating temporary restorations
- Noting each patient’s dental history and documenting treatment in their chart
- Maintaining a clean work environment
- Maintaining dental supplies by checking inventory and ordering supplies
- Performing preventative maintenance on dental equipment and calling for repairs when necessary
- Protecting patients and staff from infectious diseases by following infection control policies and protocols
- Helping patients during a dental or medical emergency by performing CPR, administering emergency medications, and oxygen supply
- Conserving dental resources by only using equipment and supplies necessary for the treatment
- Maintaining professional and technical knowledge by attending educational workshops, participating in professional societies, and reading professional publications
Dental hygienists spend much of their work day on their feet and bending over patients. They work in a clean well-lit environment and wear gloves, surgical masks, and safety glasses.
What is the Necessary Education to Perform the Job Duties?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum education requirement is completing a one-year certificate or a two-year associate degree program. No matter the program, it must hold accreditation by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, and all applicants must have a high school diploma or GED.
These programs combine both classroom and clinical laboratory components and are for students who already have a college degree in any subject. While courses differ from school to school, common core subjects are:
- Dental Hygiene Practice and Theory
- Dental Pharmacology
- Local Anesthesia
- Oral and General Pathology
Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene
Like certification programs, the associate option combines classroom and clinical laboratory work. Students take general education classes such as communications, science, and math along with dental courses that include:
- Anxiety and Pain Control
- Community Dental Health
- Dental Hygiene Theory
- Dental Materials
- Dental Pharmacology
- General and Oral Pathology
- Introduction to Dental Practice
- Legal Responsibility in Dentistry
- Nutrition in Dentistry
- Oral Biology
- Prevention and Health Promotion
All states and the District of Columbia require licensure and recognize the national certification and licensure exam administered by the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. The several hours covers three topics: Basic Sciences, Clinical Dental Hygiene, and Community Health and Research Principles. Once hygienists complete all state licensing requirements they can use the RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist) credential after their name to show the have achieved licensure.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics reported that the annual median wage in 2014 was $71,970. Many of the highest paid dental hygienists work in dental offices, however, ambulatory care services also pay well. Factors that play a role in determining salary are location, education, experience, and employer.
If you would like to have a rewarding career helping patients of all ages maintain good oral health, please contact us to learn more.