Dental Hygienists are professionals in charge of providing oral sanitation and hygienic work on their patients. Unlike Dentists and Orthodontists, Dental Hygienists are concerned mostly with treating minor oral diseases and conditions. Through the use of specific dental tools, they perform routine cleaning procedures and apply preventive treatment on patients’ mouths and teeth. The most common tasks of a Dental Hygienist include applying fluoride, sealing dental cracks and fissures, dental cleaning, treating oral diseases like cavities and gum diseases, and providing patients with hygienic tips and instructions to protect their oral cavity.
The grand majority of Dental Hygienists work in a private or public practice, tending patients by consultations, which are often previously scheduled. They usually work in groups alongside Dentists, Orthodontists, and other colleagues in oral health centers and offices.
Dental Hygienists are often found working as assistants to a Dentist. They are, in a way, what a Nurse is to a Physician; providing assistance and a second pair of hands to carry out daily tasks. However, Dental Hygienists can also tend to patients without the presence of a Dentist, having and treating their own regular patients.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Dental Hygienists are required to complete.
- Administering dental cleaning procedures, hygienic treatments, and performing minor repairs to the dental structure:
- Cleaning teeth, stains, cavities, and gums using specialized tools (e.g. water and air pressure guns, specialized drills, and chisels);
- removing food residues, cement excess, and plaque from the patient’s teeth;
- examining teeth and gums to look for signs of tooth decay and gum disease, as well as nodules and unusual swellings in the patient’s oral cavity;
- documenting and reporting the existence of any disease to the Dentist;
- taking X-ray scans of the dental structure;
- applying fluoride and other chemicals used to seal and prevent cavities and tooth decay;
- administering local anesthesia to patients when needed, provided they possess the necessary certification to do so; and
- making plaster cast impressions of dental structures for further studies.
- Keeping track of patients’ histories:
- Making observations on a patient’s chart regarding the current status of their oral health and hygiene;
- taking notes when Dentists offer advice regarding a patient’s treatment; and
- documenting and storing patient files for later recall.
- Maintaining working space, equipment, and tools in pristine conditions:
- Sterilizing dental equipment and tools; and
- sharpening blades and chisels.
- Conducting educational conferences and seminars in community centers and schools focused on dental and oral hygiene:
- Explaining the importance of dental and oral hygiene and showing the consequences of poor hygienic habits; and
- providing audiences with leaflets and other printed materials explaining good hygienic habits.
- Conducting routine cleaning duties on teeth and gums.
- Examining teeth and gums for signs of decay or disease.
- Taking dental X-rays to evaluate the condition of the jaw or of the affected tooth/teeth.
- Applying fluoride and other chemicals to fight oral problems and diseases.
- Keeping and documenting patient records.
- Maintaining their workplace and tools clean.
The average Dental Hygienist salary in USA is $58,133 per year or $30 per hour. This is around 2 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $41,000 while most experienced workers make up to $81,000. These results are based on 333 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Excellent interpersonal, communication skills:
- Creating and maintaining a communicative environment where patients can feel relaxed and comfortable and have all their questions answered in a clear manner;
- being able to explain issues or diseases in a nontechnical language to patients to make them understand their oral condition and what they need to do in order to improve it;
- having outstanding customer service skills; and
- working with a diverse group of people, while always maintaining a positive and professional image.
- Great sense of empathy:
- Displaying genuine sensitivity and concern for patients and their individual needs; and
- being able to deal with stressed, scared patients in a polite, compassionate way.
- Strong organizational and time management skills:
- Having strong multitasking skills; being able to prioritize tasks and responsibilities.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making skills:
- Identifying issues and resolving problems in a timely manner using critical thinking and good judgment; and
- being detail-oriented
- High levels of manual dexterity and motor coordination:
- Displaying exceptional attention to detail and good hand skills, having outstanding hand-eye coordination; and
- being able to use dental/technical equipment in an accurate and meticulous manner.
- Continual focus on hygiene:
- Wearing latex gloves, goggles, lab coat, and sterilizing dental instruments.
- Exceptional professionalism and strong work ethic.
- Great sense of responsibility and reliability.
Entry-level jobs as a Dental Hygienist are very easily found, especially for those currently in the process of pursuing further studies in order to get a specialization in this area. Becoming a Dental Hygienist in any academic institution requires students to complete an accredited dental hygiene program to pursue an associate’s degree.
All the experience required to work as a Dental Hygienist is obtained during the training program as applicants receive information in terms of human anatomy, radiography, ethics, and other related topics. If aspirants are interested in a more research-related position, such as being part of a clinical practice or teaching in an academic institution, they are required to have a bachelor or master’s degree in Dental Hygiene.
Once graduated from this program, getting a state license is mandatory. The requirements for registration vary depending on the state where they’re looking to perform their job, but the most common include having a diploma from the specialized college or university program taken and passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, which is a written and practical test. Moreover, aspirants need to take a regional dental hygiene exam in order to show their medical skills. Although not obligatory, it is a very common request of employers to have a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. Once all these steps are completed, Dental Hygienists may work freely.