What Is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a licensed oral health professional who works as part of a team to provide preventative dental care to patients. An associate's degree is usually required for this profession, and job growth is expected to be strong in the coming years. Read on to learn more about what dental hygienists do, what their requirements are and how much they earn. Schools offering Dental Hygiene degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

A dental hygienist performs a number of oral health activities under the supervision of a dentist. However, one sometimes works independently to perform certain types of procedures, such as cleaning teeth, checking for disease, applying fluoride and performing cancer screenings. In addition to performing an assessment of a patient's dental and general health, the hygienist offers suggestions on how to improve oral health, including how to clean to protect the teeth and mouth tissue. The hygienist may also educate the community in general about tooth and oral care.

Important Facts About Dental Hygienists

Licensure You must be licensed in the state in which you wish to practice
Key Skills Using dental equipment and x-ray machines, attention to detail, dexterity, ability to spend a long time on one's feet, people skills
Work Environment Dentists' offices
Similar Occupations Dental assistant, medical assistant, physician assistant, radiation therapist

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical Duties

A dental hygienist may serve as an assistant to a dentist during oral medical procedures. One may be responsible for obtaining and interpreting proper dental radiographs or x-rays needed for diagnostic and treatment purposes. A dental hygienist has the training and experience to perform various medical procedures, including administering anesthetics, replacing fillings and removing surgical sutures.

Administrative Duties

Record keeping and charting is an important duty for many dental hygienists. The information about diagnosis and treatment for individual patients must be tracked and stored accurately. In small dental practices, the hygienist may participate in some office management duties.

Education and Training

An aspiring dental hygienist will usually prepare for a career in this field by attending an associate's or bachelor's degree program in dental hygiene from an accredited school, college or university. Students may need to have completed prior coursework before applying to these programs. In addition to having a degree, a dental hygienist must become licensed. Licensure requirements vary by state, but they typically include passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and a state exam as well, according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

Job Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 33% employment growth for dental hygienists over the 2012-2022 decade. This much-faster-than-average growth is due to more people requesting dental services and the growth of the dental industry. In addition, the aging of the population will spur demand for dental treatments.

The median wage of a dental hygienist was $71,520 annually in May 2014, according to the BLS. The bottom 10% of hygienists made $49,190 or less annually, while the top 10% of them made $97,390 or more annually.

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