Dental Hygienist Career Overview

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Are you interested in starting a career in oral hygiene and dental health? Then a dental hygiene career could be precisely what you’ve been looking for.

Dental hygienists play a vital role in a dental office as they improve oral health and well-being for countless individuals throughout their careers. Apart from performing routine care, dental hygienists also implement preventative measures to help prevent the onset of serious diseases.

This, of course, sounds like a highly appealing job. For those who are ready to take the necessary steps to begin a career as a dental hygienist, below is a guide on everything you need to know about the profession, including duties, responsibilities, skills requirements, education, and possible career paths.

Dental Hygienist Job Description

A dental hygienist is an oral hygiene expert who puts their skill to use by performing various duties to help patients achieve optimal oral health. They also play a significant part in making sure that the patient is able to maintain this optimal condition through routine checkups and preventative measures.

Dental hygienists also help a dentist by conducting screenings, cleaning teeth, removing plaques, taking x-rays, and assisting other dental staff in an office or institution.

Dental Hygienists Roles & Responsibilities

Below are some examples of specific duties and responsibilities performed by a dental hygienist.

Reviewing Dental History

When a patient comes in for a session for the first time, the first thing to do is not go straight to the dental work but conduct a medical history check. Through this review, a hygienist gets to understand the patient’s past dental history, what treatment types they’ve undergone before, what changes have occurred in their health, what medications or allergies they currently have, what health risks there are, and so on.

Screening Patients

Another crucial preparatory step performed by a dental hygienist is patient screening. Through patient screening, a dental hygienist determines whether there is tooth decay or an existing oral disease in the patient’s teeth.

The screening process takes only a few minutes to complete but is an absolutely crucial step that can never be skipped or overlooked.

Dental Cleaning

Dental cleaning is one of the most popular tasks a dental hygienist performs. In fact, when most people think of dentists and dental hygienists, dental cleaning is what comes to mind.

It is the process of using tools to remove plaque and stains from a patient’s teeth. It is also the process through which most preventative measures, such as cavity prevention, are achieved.


A dental hygienist can take x-rays and develop them to reveal what is going on inside a patient’s teeth. This step is crucial in oral care, especially in a preventative sense.

By taking x-rays, dental health professionals are able to spot problems in their early stages before they develop into serious conditions.

Among the dental problems that can be discovered through x-rays are cavities, gum disease, oral infection, and certain kinds of tumors.

Preventative Care

Dental hygienists are often found applying sealants and fluoride as preventative measures to prevent the onset of tooth decay and cavities.

Fluorides are particularly popular compounds for teeth strengthening and fortification against erosion by acids. Not only can they prevent decay, but they can fix them as well.

Sealants are also helpful in controlling decay, especially in children.


Dental hygienists tend to serve as a point of contact between patients and dentists. For example, after screening and medical history checks, dental hygienists report to the dentist.

And after reviewing areas of concern with the doctor, they begin the task of documenting all the major aspects of the patient’s condition and the treatment applied. The documentation and record maintenance role of a dental hygienist is almost as important as the actual procedures as it ensures that nothing is lost and no mistake occurs as a result.

Dental Hygienist Skills

Dental hygienists also carry out additional tasks ranging from teaching patients how to improve and maintain good dental health on their own to promoting good mental habits in the community.

Dental hygienists may also pay occasional visits to schools to teach young children about important dental health habits and techniques to maintain strong, healthy teeth.

Why Pursue a Career in Dental Hygiene

Many become dental hygienists because they want a job with a bright future, room for growth, and a stable income. Also, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for dental hygienists is quite impressive.

Additionally, dental hygienists enjoy a feeling of satisfaction from helping people, ranging from kids to the elderly. All of these can serve as genuine motivations to pursue a career in the field.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

There are quite a few options to consider in becoming a dental hygienist. One of the most popular approaches is to get an associate degree in dental hygiene. You may also choose to get a bachelor’s degree if you please.

For those who would like to be researchers in the field, getting a master’s degree is usually a requirement. Candidates can also go through community colleges, where it takes three years to complete the programs.

Once you’ve completed a dental hygiene program, the next step is to pass written and clinical exams so that you can get licensed and start practicing as a Registered Dental Hygienist.

Work Environment

Dental hygienists can be found working in a host of healthcare-related environments. These include dental offices, nursing homes, hospitals, and other medical facilities. However, the most common place to find a dental hygienist is in a dental office.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 94% of dental hygienists work here.

It is also worth mentioning that dental hygienists can choose to work part-time or full-time. This, of course, greatly depends on the office wherein they decide to work. Some offices are entirely amenable to having hygienists work part-time, while some are not.

Technically, for those who work part-time, it is, in fact, possible to work for multiple dentists and fill out a full-time schedule.