Dental Hygienist Career Profile

Dental Hygienists are licensed dental professionals that practice both independently and/or under the supervision of a dentist to meet the oral health needs of the public. Their scope of practice varies from state to state, but generally they remove plaque and tartar from all surfaces of the patients’ teeth, record and review patients’ health histories, process and develop photos and X-rays, make dental impressions, apply fluorides and sealants, and most importantly, instruct patients in proper oral hygiene and nutrition. Because oral health is so critical to general health, and because the dental hygienist is often a patient’s most frequent dental counselor, dental hygienists are among the most important health professionals in a patient’s life.

The ideal dental hygienist is a strong listener, teacher and provider of high caliber customer service. Attention to detail, manual dexterity and team play skills are also important.

Dental hygienists are employed in a variety of settings including: private practice, schools, nursing homes, prisons, public health settings and residential nursing homes. Some are employed as dental product representatives/experts.

Dental Hygienists work both full- and part-time and most often are paid on an hourly basis; many are even offered incentives based on daily production. Full-time dental hygienists are typically eligible for overtime; health, vacation and pension benefits; and, frequently, continuing education reimbursement.

How does it feel to be a dental hygienist?

As a highly respected member of the dental team, your most important role will be educating patients in maintaining their own oral health. You are the teacher, the motivator and the salesman that will help them establish and maintain proper oral care. Certainly you will take satisfaction from the daily patient care you deliver, such as when you see a patient who has suffered from chronic oral disease return with healthy teeth and gums because of your clinical skill, mentoring and guidance. But the real satisfaction will come from the personal and professional relationships you will develop with your patients and colleagues. As a dental hygienist, you are the most important spokesperson for oral health in the dental practice. Dental Hygienist is listed by US News and World Report as No. 5 among America’s 100 Best Jobs.

Dental Hygiene is also among the fastest-growing professions in the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of Licensed Dental Hygienists will increase by 37,400 jobs from 2014 through 2024, a 19 percent increase. In order to become a dental hygienist, students must graduate from a CODA accredited dental hygiene program, pass the written National Board Dental Hygiene Exam, pass a state accepted clinical exam and (in most states) pass a law and ethics or jurisprudence exam.

Dental Hygienists choosing to remain in clinical practice broaden their responsibilities by pursuing certificate programs, a Bachelor of Science Degree and even a Master’s Degree. Increased compensation might also come with improved clinical and patient management skills. Given the growth of the profession, dental hygiene educators are in increasingly high demand. As the dental products industry grows, dental hygienists will also be able to leverage their experience and knowledge as dental sales representatives, product experts and administrators.

Are you a practicing Respiratory Therapist with an Associate's degree, which is a pre-requisite for this program?