Dental Hygienist Career Profile

Dental hygienists are specialist dental workers, working with oral health issues. It's a special area of dentistry, involving varying forms of dental procedures, but not in the same capacity as a dentist.

The work environment

Dental hygienists work in their own offices, often with special requirements for their equipment. They may have their own practices, or be associated with clinics or dental practices. In some cases dental hygienists will work several days a week at dental practices as required. Their services form a valuable addition to dental practices, where the hygienist can help reduce the work load on the dentists. 

Work equipment includes the standard sterile work environment and protective face masks, glasses and gloves used by dentists. There are strict licensing requirements for the hygienic nature of these practices, and dental hygienists, being experts, are scrupulous about the cleanliness of their work areas.

The work

A dental hygienist's work includes:

  • Removal of deposits from teeth
  • Teeth and gum examinations
  • Dental hygiene and oral health advice and education
  • Cleaning and polishing teeth
  • Removal of plaque and stains
  • Application of cavity prevention treatments like fluoride
  • Teeth whitening (strictly speaking, this is a cosmetic procedure, not dental hygiene)
  • X rays
  • Fillings and administration of anesthetics (These limited level procedures are permissible in some US states only. Generally, dental hygienists do not perform any surgical dental procedures themselves.)
  • Laboratory work for dentists
  • Assisting dentists during procedures (Please note that dental hygienists are not dental assistants. Their role may include some similar duties, but in practice most of their work is quite different, and independent of that of a dentist.)

A dental hygienist's clientele may include a variety of situations, and there is some case management work involved where ongoing conditions are being treated. Much of their work involves diagnosis and tests, and because of the large number of conditions in this field,  dental hygienists may conduct multiple tests for different patients.

Consultative work, both with dentists and clients, forms another major part of the dental hygienist's work. The processes of testing, diagnosis, advising clients and collaboration with dentists can involve a considerable workload.

Salary: The hourly bandwidth ranges between $20 and $45 an hour. (Geographic location is a factor in salaries.)

Hours: Dental hygienists usually work office hours, with added time as required for test results, case management administration, etc.

The career environment

Dental hygienists are one of the fastest growing professions in the US. Their services are rising in demand due to major changes in the dental profession, where the demarcation of roles between dental hygienist and dentist is becoming an important factor in managing workloads. The number of practicing dental hygienists is expected to increase by 30 per cent over the coming decade.

The change in roles has also added considerably to the business prospects for dental hygienists. Much of their work involves valuable health care and education of patients. The consultative role is also particularly important, providing useful advice for clients and in many cases important services for children whose dental conditions are in the formative stages. The services of dental hygienists are particularly useful for early detection of dental health and gum issues.