A Dental Hygienist is someone who is focused on providing good health for your teeth. That's the simplest definition. They are typically hired by Dentists to work in their offices, both full and part time. Many Dental Hygienists will only work two or three days a week in one office, allowing them to hold jobs in more than one office.

Don't confuse them with Dental Assistants, they are trained and licensed to do separate tasks, like sterilizing equipment, taking and developing X-Rays, give anasthetics, take impressions, hand instruments to the dentist, and in some cases do office clerical work.

Job Description

Dental hygienists do the following:
  • clean teeth, removing soft and hard deposits, calculus, stains, and plaque from teeth
  • teach patients good oral hygiene
  • provide preventive dental care
  • examine patients’ teeth and gums
  • record the presence of diseases or abnormalities
  • perform root planing as a periodontal therapy
  • take and develop dental X-rays
  • apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and pit and fissure sealants
  • clean and polish teeth with hand and rotary instruments and ultrasonics
In some US States, hygienists can:
  • administer anesthetics, both through gas and needle
  • place and carve filling materials, temporary fillings, and periodontal dressings
  • remove sutures
  • smooth and polish metal restorations
  • prepare clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for the Dentist to interpret (as they may not diagnose on their own)

Dental hygienists also are supposed to help patients develop and maintain good oral health. For example, they'll show patients how to brush and floss their teeth properly, and help them select the best toothbrush. There's also a relationship between a patient's diet and his or her oral health, and the hygienist must explain this.

Dental Hygienists also work with radiation (X-Rays) and anasthetic gases. They can also work chairside next to the Dentist. They wear safety glasses, gloves, and a mask when at work, to prevent infection.

Job Prospects

There were about 148,000 Dental hygienist jobs in the US in 2002. However, many hygienists work at more than one job, so the number exceeds the workers. Over half worked part time, less than 35 hours a week. Almost all of them work in Dentist's offices, with a few in doctor's offices.

The job market for dental hygienists is growing, according to the US department of Labor, and will grow faster than average. In fact, it's said to be the fastest growing occupation through 2012. This is due to population growth, more people keeping their teeth, and the fact that older dentists are retiring and the newer replacements hire one or two hygienists to help them. As Dentists' workloads increase, they'll hire more hygienists to clean teeth for them, freeing them up to do other procedures.


According to the US Department of Labor:
Median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $26.59 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $21.96 and $32.48 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17.34, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39.24 an hour.

Earnings vary by geographic location, employment setting, and years of experience. Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, salary, or commission basis.

Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment. According to the American Dental Association, almost all full-time dental hygienists employed by private practitioners received paid vacation. The ADA also found that 9 out of 10 full-time and part-time dental hygienists received dental coverage. Dental hygienists who work for school systems, public health agencies, the Federal Government, or State agencies usually have substantial benefits.


A dental hygienist must be licensed by the state in which they work, like many health jobs. To get a license, they must graduate from a dental hygiene school and pass both a written and clinical examination. The written exam, given by the American Dental Association, is the same throughout the US (I think). Most States also require an exam on the legal issues of dental hygiene. Who knew it needed so much training to clean teeth?

Most dental hygiene programs in the US have an associate degree, though you could also get a certificate, a bachelors, or a master's degree. To work in a dentist's office, you need an associate degree or certificate or better. If you want to research, teach, or do clinical practice in public or school health programs, you need a bachelor's or master's degree.

About half the dental hygiene programs prefer applicants who have completed at least 1 year of college, but requirements vary. Schools offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition, radiography, histology (the study of tissue structure), periodontology (the study of gum diseases), pathology, dental materials, clinical dental hygiene, and social and behavioral sciences.

To be a dental hygienist, you need the training, and good manual dexterity, since you use dental instruments in a patient's mouth, and you don't have much room to work.

For more information, contact the American Dental Hygienist's Association, at http://www.adha.org