Dental Hygiene Career Overview

So, what does a dental hygienist 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.

Other job duties may include:

  • Performing patient screening procedures
  • Assessing oral health conditions and reviewing health history; 
  • Taking and developing dental X-rays (radiographs); 
  • Removing calculus and plaque from tooth surfaces;   
  • Applying sealants and fluoride to teeth; 
  • Teaching patients oral hygiene strategies, such as brushing, flossing and nutritional counseling; 
  • Making impressions for study casts or models of teeth;
  • Performing documentation and office management activities.
 
 

Where will I work?

Dental hygienists find employment in private dental offices, corporate dental practices, hospitals, public health, higher education, the armed services, marketing and research fields. Roles of the dental hygienist include clinician, educator, researcher, administrator/manager and advocate.

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 or standing 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  equipment from computers to specialized dental instruments, sterilization  equipment 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;
  • Performs as a member of the professional dental team.

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, as well as 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 primarily assist the dentist.

 
 

Need to get your feet wet before jumping all-in?
Brookhaven, Cedar Valley, Mountain View and Richland College offer a continuing education Dental Assisting program, which can provide entry-level dental assisting experience.