Dental hygienists are trained professionals who work in dental offices and provide patients with dental cleanings and other dental care. They have a large responsibility and perform many tasks that were previously performed by dentists. Dental hygienists must complete a formal training program to work in a dental office under that title. Here is an overview of dental hygienists, including what they do, what it takes to become one and what their career outlook looks like.
What is a Dental Hygienist?
A dental hygienist is a highly-trained professional who provides certain dental procedures and care to patients in a dental office. They clean the patients’ teeth by removing plaque, tartar and stains from teeth and also apply fluorides and sealants to protect the teeth. Other duties of a dental hygienist include:
• Taking and developing dental x-rays
• Documenting patient care and treatment plans
• Educating patients about good dental hygiene, including how to keep gums and teeth healthy
• Assess the patient’s oral health and communicate this to the dentist
• Advise patient’s on choosing toothbrushes, toothpaste and other dental care devices
Dental hygienists use various tools throughout their day. Depending on what they may be doing, the tools may be hand, power, ultrasonic and even laser tools. They’re allowed to do a lot of work on their own but may need to be under the dentist’s supervision for certain things.
The scope of what they can and cannot do on their own is different in each state. Some states allow dental hygienists to obtain additional training so they can provide restorative services, such as placing temporary crowns and extracting teeth.
How to Become a Dental Hygienist
To become a dental hygienist, an individual must have at least an associate’s degree. Although associate’s degree programs generally take two years to complete, it takes three years to complete a dental hygienist program. Some candidates choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, but the associate’s degree is the most common path towards this career.
These programs can be found in technical schools or community colleges. There are more than 300 dental hygiene programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in the United States. Dental hygiene programs include classroom instructions, laboratory studies and clinical education. Course tops include medical ethics, chemistry, anatomy, periodontics and biology. Dental hygienists must be licensed in all the states.
Although licensure requirements may vary by states, most require the candidate to complete the dental hygiene program and pass both a written and clinical examination. The dental hygienist must also complete continuing education credits to maintain licensure. The specific requirements for a state can be found on the state’s Board of Dental Examiners.
Career Outlook & Salary Potential
Dental hygienists are expected to see job growth of 11 percent during the 2018-2028 decade according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growth is expected to result in about 23,700 new dental hygienist jobs by 2018. Dental hygienists earned an average annual wage of $75,500 with wages ranging from $51,930 to $101,820 as of May 2018. States, where dental hygienists earned the highest wages, are Alaska, California, Washington, Arizona and New Jersey.
Working as a dental hygienist can be very rewarding work because they’re very much in demand, and they earn good wages. More importantly, dental hygienists play a part in providing patients with good dental care and improving a patient’s smile.