What is a Dental Hygienist?

Also known as: Hygienist, Registered Dental Hygienist.

A dental hygienist is someone who cleans teeth, examines patients for oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provides 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 and work closely with dentists and dental assistants.

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What does a Dental Hygienist do?

A dental hygienist uses 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, and use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems.

Some other tasks of a dental hygienist include:

  • Removing tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
  • Applying sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
  • Taking and developing dental x-rays
  • Keeping track of patient care and treatment plans
  • Teaching patients oral hygiene, such as how to brush and floss correctly

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.

Sometimes patients are in extreme pain or mental stress, and the hygienist must be sensitive to their emotions. Dental hygienists 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 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.

How to become a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene to enter the occupation. Every state and province requires dental hygienists to be licensed. 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.

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Further Reading

  • Pros And Cons Of Being A Dental Hygienist

    When choosing what career to enter there are many factors to take into consideration. It would be wise to learn as much as you can about being a dental hygienist and job shadow if possible before making a big investment on your education.

  • Our Remarkable Role

    The dental hygiene profession has dramatically changed in the last 100 years. When the profession was developed in 1906, the purpose of the dental hygienist was to provide preventive dental cleanings for patients. Today, the main purpose of dental hygiene is still to provide preventive dental care, however many more responsibilities have been added.

  • What Are Some Qualities A Person Should Have To Be A Good Dental Hygienist?

    If you’re patient, enjoy working with people, and care about their health, then this profession might be a good fit. It’s also a stable and growing field.

  • Dental Hygienist - Job Description

    In the dental office, the dentist and the dental hygienist work together to meet the oral health needs of patients. Since each state has its own specific regulations regarding their responsibilities, the range of services performed by hygienists varies from state to state.

  • Interview With Dental Hygienist, Julie Spaans

    After 22 years in the field, Ms. Spaans has come to learn the career is about more than simply helping others keep their teeth clean. Career Colleges recently interviewed Ms. Spanns about why she loves her job, the unexpected connections she has made with her patients, and to discuss the day-to-day responsibilities of her position.

  • Dental Hygienist: Career Information

    Dental hygienists clean patients' teeth and examine them for signs of disease and damage. They teach patients how to maintain good oral health.

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