Nursing and Health Care > Dental Hygiene > Dental Hygiene Careers

Dental Hygiene Careers

What do dental hygienists do?

Dental hygienists perform an important role in the dental office. Their tasks include removing calculus and stains, helping to prevent dental disease, applying preventive agents and taking radiographs (X-rays). Hygienists perform oral cancer screenings, take patients' medical history, take vital signs and educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health. Hygienists are professional health care providers who work in a variety of settings that include dental offices, education, research and dental sales. They may also work as administrators and advocates for patients’ oral health.

Job duties may include: 

  • Do patient screening procedures, such as assessing oral health conditions, reviewing health history and performing oral cancer screening 
  • Take and develop dental X-rays (radiographs) 
  • Remove calculus and plaque from tooth surfaces  
  • Apply sealants and fluoride to teeth 
  • Teach patients oral hygiene strategies such as brushing, flossing and nutritional counseling 
  • Make impressions for study casts, models of teeth
  • Perform documentation and office management activities

Where will I work? 

Almost all dental hygienists work in general dental practices or in specialty practices such as periodontics or pediatric dentistry. They may also help provide dental hygiene services for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and public health clinics. 

With further education and experience, dental hygienists can move into areas such as teaching hygiene students in dental schools and dental hygiene education programs. Research, office management and business administration are other career options. Employment opportunities also may be available with companies that market dental-related materials and equipment. 

What makes a good dental hygienist? 

Dental hygienists must be good at working with their hands in tight quarters using very precise instruments. They should be comfortable performing physical tasks such as bending over patients for a long time. Dental hygienists must understand how to operate complex technology, including X-ray machines and powered instruments. 

A good dental hygienist: 

  • Has a positive, patient-focused attitude
  • Has steady hands
  • Has the technical ability to operate a variety of machines and equipment from basic medical devices to specialized dental tools and x-ray machines
  • Is detail-oriented and comfortable with doing work to consistent standards
  • Has excellent communication skills. You’ll need to deal with a wide range of patient personalities and ages, explain procedures and listen to patient concerns, and explain proper oral health practices
  • Has the physical stamina to work sitting or standing using repetitive motions all day
  • Has a pleasant, caring personality that helps to reduce stress in patients who are in pain or fearful

What's the difference between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant?  

A dental hygienist is a professional licensed by the state and usually must have an associate degree. There’s a big difference in the scope of work and also the salaries. The biggest differences between the two are the licensure to practice and that a dental hygienist often works one-on-one with patients performing independent tasks, while dental assistants are not licensed and conduct smaller and more supervised jobs on patients' teeth. 

Employment Outlook 

A national shortage of qualified dental hygienists ensures that graduates of El Centro’s Dental Hygiene program will have access to excellent job opportunities. 

Salaries and Projected Job Growth 

According to CareerOneStop (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor), salaries and projected job growth in Texas are: 

Job Title Median
Hourly Rate
Median
Annual Salary
Est. % Job
Growth Through 2024
Dental hygienists$35.34$73,500+27%