Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health. Almost all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices. Hygienists work closely with dentists and dental assistants.
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Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job. They clean and polish teeth with both hand and powered tools, as well as ultrasonic devices. In some cases, hygienists remove stains with an air polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a powered tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems. Some to other tasks of a dental hygienist include:
Dental hygienists help patients develop and keep good oral health. They may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They also may give advice to patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral-care devices.
Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Every state and province requires dental hygienists to be licensed. Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene to enter the occupation. Certificates, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees in dental hygiene are also available but are less common among dental hygienists. Private dental offices usually require a minimum of an associate’s degree or certificate in dental hygiene. A bachelor's or master's degree is usually required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.
High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Some dental hygiene programs also require applicants to have completed at least one year of college. Specific entrance requirements vary from one school to another. Most schools offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Hygienists study anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography, and periodontology, which is the study of gum disease. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain or mental stress, and the hygienist must be sensitive to their emotions. Dental hygienist must follow specific rules and protocols to help diagnose and treat a patient. In rare cases, dental hygienists work without the direct supervision of a dentist.
Dental hygienists must be good at working with their hands. They generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body using very precise tools. Dental hygienists must work closely with dentists and patients. Dental hygienists should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as bending over patients for a long time. Dental hygienists must understand how to operate complex machinery, including x-ray machines and powered instruments.
Almost all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, which are clean and well lit. They work closely with dentists and dental assistants.
The median annual wage of dental hygienists was $68,250 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,000, and the top 10 percent earned more than $93,820. Pay for dental hygienists may be for each hour worked, each day worked, on a regular yearly salary, or on commission. Some dental hygienists also get benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and contributions to their retirement fund. However, benefits vary by employer and may be available only to full-time workers.