The Dental Hygiene Profession


What is a Dental Hygienist?

Registered Dental Hygienists provide dental health education, prevent and treat oral disease, promote and encourage the preventive aspects of dental care, and assume responsibility for patient care in the dental office. They are graduates of dental hygiene education programs in community colleges, colleges, and universities.  They are required to take written and clinical examinations before they are allowed to practice.  Besides working in a private dental practice, dental hygienists also work as educators, administrators, researchers and entrepreneurs.


Job Description (American Dental Association, 2018)

A career as a dental hygienist offers a wide range of challenges. In the dental office, the dentist and the dental hygienist work together to meet the oral health needs of patients. Since each state has its own specific regulations regarding their responsibilities, the range of services performed by hygienists varies from state to state. Some of the services provided by dental hygienists may include:

  • patient screening procedures; such as assessment of oral health conditions, review of the health history, oral cancer screening, head and neck inspection, dental charting and taking blood pressure and pulse
  • taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays)
  • removing calculus and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth
  • applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g., sealants and fluorides)
  • teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health;
    (e.g., tooth brushing, flossing and nutritional counseling)
  • counseling patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health
  • making impressions of patients' teeth for study casts (models of teeth used by dentists to evaluate patient treatment needs)
  • performing documentation and office management activities


Career Advantages (American Dental Association, 2018)

Dental hygiene offers the following challenges and rewards:

Personal satisfaction: One of the most enjoyable aspects of a career in dental hygiene is working with people. Personal fulfillment comes from providing a valuable health care service while establishing trusting relationships with patients.

Prestige: As a result of their education and clinical training in a highly skilled discipline, dental hygienists are respected as valued members of the oral health care team.

Variety: Dental hygienists use a variety of interpersonal and clinical skills to meet the oral health needs of many different patients each day. Hygienists have opportunities to help special population groups such as children, the elderly and the disabled. They may also provide oral health instruction in primary and secondary schools and other settings.

Creativity: Because dental hygienists interact with such diverse population groups, they must be creative in their approach to patient management and oral health education.

Flexibility: The flexibility offered by full- and part-time employment options and availability of evening and weekend hours enable dental hygienists to balance their career and lifestyle needs. Hygienists also have opportunities to work in a wide variety of settings including private dental practices, educational and community institutions, research teams and dental corporations.

Security: The services that dental hygienists provide are needed and valued by a large percentage of the population. There is currently a great demand for dental hygienists. Employment opportunities will be excellent well into the future. Due to the success of preventive dentistry in reducing the incidence of oral disease, the expanding older population will retain their teeth longer, and will be even more aware of the importance of regular dental care. With the emphasis on preventive care, dentists will need to employ more dental hygienists than ever before to meet the increased demand for dental services.


Opportunities (American Dental Association, 2018)

Hygienists are in demand in general dental practices and in specialty practices such as periodontics or pediatric dentistry. They also may be employed to provide dental hygiene services for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and public health clinics.

Depending upon the level of education and experience achieved, dental hygienists can apply their skills and knowledge to other career activities such as teaching hygiene students in dental schools and dental hygiene education programs. Research, office management and business administration are other career options. Employment opportunities also may be available with companies that market dental-related materials and equipment. 


Program Technical Standards

The following standards pertain to the particular cognitive, motor, behavioral, and social skills that are associated with the educational process of the dental hygiene program.


Skills and Abilities:

·         Active Listening - Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

·         Speaking - Talking to others to convey information effectively. 

·         Reading Comprehension - Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents. 

·         Active Learning - Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem solving and decision-making. 

·         Time Management - Managing one's own time and the time of others. 

·         Oral Comprehension - The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences. 

·         Oral Expression - The ability to effectively communicate information and ideas orally.

·         Written Expression – The ability to effectively communicate information and ideas through the written word.

·         Critical Thinking – The ability to analyze material and assimilate information in order to find a solution to a problem. 

·         Manual Dexterity - The ability to make precisely coordinated movements of the body to grasp, manipulate, or assemble very small objects. 

·         Near Vision - The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer). 


Tasks and Activities:

            Occupation specific tasks could include but are not limited to:


·         Administering local anesthetic agents. 

·         Applying fluorides and other cavity preventing agents to arrest dental decay. 

·         Charting conditions of decay and disease for diagnosis and treatment by dentist.

·         Cleaning calcareous deposits, accretions, and stains from teeth and beneath margins of gums, using dental instruments. 

·         Conducting dental health clinics for community groups to augment services of dentist.

·         Examining gingiva, using probes, to determine the presence of periodontal disease.

·         Exposing and process dental radiographs.  

·         Palpating lymph nodes of the head and neck to detect swelling or tenderness that could indicate the presence of cancer. 

·         Maintaining dental equipment and sharpen and sterilize dental instruments. 

·         Maintaining patient recall system. 

·         Taking impressions for study casts. 

·         Placing and remove rubber dams, matrices, and temporary restorations. 

·         Providing clinical services and health education to improve and maintain the oral health of patients and the general public. 

·         Reviewing and record patient medical histories. 

·         Removing excess cement.

·         Removing sutures and dressings. 


Generalized Work Activities:


  • Documenting/Recording Information - Entering, transcribing, recording, storing, or maintaining information in written or electronic/magnetic form. 
  • Performing for or Working Directly with the Public - Performing for people or dealing directly with the public. This includes serving customers in restaurants and stores, and receiving clients or guests.
  • Assisting and Caring for Others - Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients. 
  • Getting Information - Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates - Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.