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Dental Hygienist Job Description, Career as a Dental Hygienist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Two-year college; license

Salary: Median—$28.05 per hour

Employment Outlook: Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Dental hygienists are licensed professionals who help dentists provide treatment and care of the mouth, teeth, and gums. State laws limit the duties that hygienists may perform. Hygienists examine patients' teeth and gums. They remove stains and tartar, a hard, yellow deposit. They also perform root planing, a procedure that smooths and cleans the root of the tooth. In addition, dental hygienists take and develop dental X-rays to help diagnose problems and apply fluorides and sealants to help prevent cavities. Hygienists teach patients how to prevent dental problems, emphasizing the importance of good nutrition, proper brushing, and regular dental checkups.

In small dental offices, a hygienist may also act as the office assistant or the laboratory technician. Hygienists may schedule appointments and do laboratory work, such as polishing gold inlays and making models from dental impressions. However, not all dental hygienists work in dental offices. There are also job opportunities in clinics and public health agencies.

Education and Training Requirements

To practice, dental hygienists must be licensed by the state in which they wish to work. To qualify for licensure, hygienists must graduate from a school of dental hygiene accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and pass both a written and a clinical examination administered by the state. To enter a school of dental hygiene, you must have at least a high school education. Many schools require that you take an aptitude test given by the American Dental Hygienists Association. Two-year associate's degree programs qualify you to work in a private office. Four-year bachelor's degree programs qualify you to do research, teach, or work in public or school health programs.

Dental hygienists usually clean patients' teeth, teach patients how to prevent dental problems, and inform the dentist about possible problem areas in the patients' mouths. (Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Thomson Gale. Reproduced by permission.)

Getting the Job

Your school placement office can help you find a job. Check the want ads in trade and professional journals, as well as in local newspapers or job banks on the Internet. Apply directly to dentists' offices or clinics in which you would like to work. If you want to work for a school or public health program, apply to take the necessary civil service test.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement possibilities are best for dental hygienists who work in public, hospital, or school health programs. Those who have a bachelor's or master's degree may take on supervisory or administrative jobs. Hygienists with master's degrees may teach in dental hygiene schools.

The employment outlook for dental hygienists is expected to grow much faster than the average through 2014. Employment prospects should be favorable as the demand for dental care increases with public awareness of the importance of oral health. Older dentists are being replaced by younger dentists, who are more likely to employ dental hygienists.

Working Conditions

Most dental hygienists work in dentists' offices. These offices are generally clean, pleasant, and well lighted. Dental hygienists work with a small staff and usually enjoy a close relationship with their fellow workers. Hygienists often attend to a number of different patients in the course of a day. The work is especially varied in schools and in public health positions.

In general, hygienists work between thirty-five and forty hours a week. Part-time employment is also common. Hygienists who work in dentists' offices may work some evenings and Saturdays. School hygienists work during school hours.

Where to Go for More Information

American Dental Association
211 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-2678
(312) 440-2500

American Dental Hygienists Association
444 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 3400
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 440-8900

National Health Council
1730 M St. NW, Ste. 500
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 785-3910

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on education, experience, and geographical location. In 2004 the median income for dental hygienists was $28.05 per hour. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations. Hygienists who work for government health agencies receive the same benefits that other government workers receive.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesHealth & Medicine