What You Need to Know About Being a Dental Hygienist

Written by Kate Lopaze

There’s more to a bright, healthy smile than flossing—a great dental hygienist has a hand in that too. Hygienists are licensed dental health professionals who work in dentists’ offices, providing patient care and administrative support. They often perform clinical procedures like cleanings, and work with patients to maintain good oral health long after the appointment.

The Day-to-Day

Dental hygienists can be found in a variety of settings, from private dental clinics to public health agencies to specialized healthcare settings like nursing homes and prisons. This is typically a 9-to-5-style job, but may require flexible hours depending on the setting. Many hygienists work full-time, while others choose part-time.

Wherever they work, dental hygienists usually treat patients directly, under the supervision of dentists or nurses. They perform tasks like examining patients, reviewing patient histories, removing plaque and stains from teeth, processing x-rays, running diagnostic tests for the dentist to analyze, educating patients on dental care and follow-up, and offering pre- or post-surgery care.

For more on what it’s like to be a dental hygienist, check out this video: The SKiNNY on Dental Hygienists

The Requirements

Dental hygienists need to graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program, with an associate’s degree or higher (approximately three years of study). In addition, all states require that practicing dental hygienists pass an exam and become licensed, though the specific requirements vary by state.

Read more about licensing and state requirements at the American Dental Hygienist Association.

The Skills

The dental hygiene field calls for a number of special skills and knowledge bases, including:

  • Attention to detail
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills
  • Patient care techniques
  • Equipment knowledge and everyday use
  • Diagnostic/analytical skills
  • Clinical knowledge

Many of these can be developed through hygienist education and training programs.

The Pay

This is a pretty lucrative Allied Health field. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for dental hygienists is $71,520, or $34.38 per hour.

The Outlook

Licensed dental hygienists will continue to be in hot demand, especially as public and community health initiatives grow. The BLS expects that the field will grow by at least 19% by 2024, much faster than average.

If you’re interested in helping patients achieve and maintain that beautiful smile, the dental hygienist career path could be the one for you!

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About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.

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