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How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Do you enjoy working directly with patients? Are you an expert in providing oral care prevention and treatment? If so, a position as a dental hygienist might be the detail-oriented role that’s right for you.

A dental hygienist will use their expertise to assist dentists in all aspects of dental care by cleaning and taking care of the mouth during a patient’s visit.

Dental hygienists also play an important role in patient care and education. Not only are they responsible for teaching and improving patients’ dental hygiene and oral health, but a dental hygienist is responsible for a wide variety of key duties, such as performing dental cleanings, taking dental x-rays, educating patients in preventive care, and communicating results with the dentist.

Hygienists ensure a safe experience for patients by sterilizing and sanitizing dental equipment and instruments. They have strong interpersonal skills and play an important role in nearly every dental office.

Sample job description

We believe in providing high-quality dental care to all of our patients regardless of their oral health status. Because of our commitment to patient satisfaction, we’re looking for an experienced dental hygienist in [your location] to help promote correct oral health practices. Your role will be helping patients decide which dental treatments are best for them, while also being available to assist in any dental emergencies. [Your company name] is committed to providing the highest-quality dental care, which is why we’re looking for a hygienist who has proven experience working with people of all ages and backgrounds. [Your company name] is a patient-centered practice, and we’re looking for someone motivated who will take part in our patient-centric culture.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Prepare and calibrate machinery for printing and other tasks
  • Operate machinery and maintain press to meet product specifications
  • Examine and clean patients’ teeth and gums
  • Educate patients on how to properly care for their gums and teeth and optimize their oral health through proper flossing and brushing
  • Evaluate patients’ mouths and gums for oral disease
  • Document care and treatments plans
  • Apply sealants and fluoride to protect teeth
  • Use a wide variety of tools, such as hand and power tools, x-ray machines, ultrasonic tools, and lasers
  • Review and communicate findings to dentists

Education and experience

  • Associates or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene or related field
  • Accreditation through the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) as a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH)
  • Three years of related experience

Required skills and qualifications

  • Exceptional verbal communication skills
  • Impeccable attention to detail
  • Proficiency using power tools and manual dexterity
  • Ability to conduct dental assessments
  • Excellent problem solving
  • Strong interpersonal skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Experience working in a fast-paced dental office
  • Willing to work flexible hours
  • Experience creating a friendly atmosphere for patients

Typical work environment

Dental hygienists work in an office as part of a team. They often consult with dentists and other office staff, including dental assistants, to manage the way information circulates throughout the office. Collaboration with dentists and dental assistants also helps them to maintain a high level of accuracy in their work. While dental hygienists are full-time employees in a company, some do work part-time.

Dental hygienists usually keep regular office hours. They will occasionally need to work late or over weekends. Dental hygienists should expect to sit or stand for extended periods of time and occasionally work with a patient’s family to relay important information.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a dental hygienist in an office setting are 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. All dental offices have different hours of operation with some closing one day during the week while some offer weekend appointments as well.

Available certifications

As a dental hygienist, you must be an RDH from a properly accredited university or technical college with CODA certification. Many states also require that you continue your education on a bi-yearly basis.

  • Dental Hygienists may need to enroll in continuing education. Credit hours vary by state. Allow yourself plenty of time to attend courses to account for the appropriate number of CEU hours needed.
  • After earning a Dental Hygienist certificate, all dental hygienists are required to become licensed, except for those working in the state of Alabama. You must pass a written licensing exam. Most states require you to have a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination as well as pass the state licensing exam for whatever state you’re practicing in. Schools may offer practice sessions to help prepare for the examination.

Career path

The journey to becoming a dental hygienist begins by earning an associate’s degree, or further, in dental hygiene. Students who aspire to be a dental hygienist start by enrolling in an accredited program that offers a dental hygiene program. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dental hygiene are available but are less common.

Dental hygienists need to develop compassion and excellent communication skills so they can work well with patients. Treating patients in a dental office is a collaborative process involving multiple members of a dental care team to make sure the patient receives the proper treatment plan.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 29-1292

2020 Employment206,100
Projected Employment in 2022n/a
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 11% increase
Projected 2019-2029 Numeric Shift23,100 increase

Dental hygienists should stay ahead of advancements in oral care. Your knowledge could benefit your career and the patients that you care for. Set goals for your certifications and choose courses that interest you and will benefit your career and make you a valuable employee.