Dental Hygienist Career Guide

Overview

As the name suggests, a dental hygienist is a trained professional who looks after the internal hygiene of a patient’s mouth – more specifically the teeth and gums. A dental hygienist uses tried and tested techniques and methods to promote oral hygiene and prevent oral health complications. Another component of a dental hygienist job is educating the patient on maintaining good oral hygiene.

Quite often, a these professionals will work together with a dentist to provide the maximum health care and treatment to patients. Together by combining their expertise and unique skill sets, they are able to diagnose and treat a patient’s oral health.

If you feel that you can add value to this industry with your skills and efforts then you should become a dental hygienist. You may have other reasons for becoming a dental hygienist such as its earning potential, being able to help people or simply because you are interested in the dental field.

Job Duties

What dental hygienists attempt to offer to patients can be divided into 3 primary categories. The first includes using preventative measures to promote and ensure acceptable oral hygiene. The second is more of an instructional and educational service that attempts at educating and guiding patients on developing habits that ensure proper oral hygiene. Finally, the third category of services offered by a dental hygienist is that of treatment and care to patients who are suffering from poor dental hygiene.

Listed below you will find general job duties that may be applied to most professionals in this field. Keep in mind that this list of job duties is not definitive and can vary from practice to practice. Other factors that influence a dental hygienists job description are experience, size of the service, and scope of practice.

  1. Inquire with patients about their eating and hygiene habits. As a dental hygienist you must have full and complete knowledge of the food composition of patients and a schedule of their oral cleansing habits
  2. You need to accurately examine and diagnose the hygiene problems with patients by conducting physical and visual examinations
  3. Sit with patients and explain to them the benefits and importance of good hygiene habits. Educating patients and giving them simplified instructions on how to keep their oral hygiene maintenance is crucial to your job duties
  4. Under the scope of your expertise, you will need to remove stains, plaque, dirt and tartar from teeth.
  5. You will have to apply cleaning agents, fluorides, enamel protectors and sealants to maintain and preserve delicate teeth
  6. You will need to take patient x-rays and maintain their progress charts. A history of their visits and treatments should be archived for easy reference.
  7. If needed, you will need to consult with a senior dentist for cases or issues that you may not have a full grasp over
  8. You will need to ensure that the equipment in the office is hygienic and sterile. At the same time you should ensure that the equipment, tools and machinery are in working order and well maintained.
  9. Develop detailed plans with patients that schedules and monitors their oral hygiene habits

Career Outlook

According to the database at The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), it is predicted that employment growth for dental hygienists will grow by 38% during the years of 2010 to 2020 – this is a rapid expansion and roughly translates to 68,500 new jobs.

This can be attributed to the current research on oral healthcare linked to overall health as well as the increase in health awareness. Furthermore, the population is starting to understand the importance of preventative medicine and is frequently visiting dentists.

Salary Prospects

The average annual salary for dental hygienists was $68,250 in May 2010 (bls.gov). Some dental hygienists also get benefits. The top 10% of dental hygienists earned over $93,820. These figures may improve as your experience increases with the number of cases you work on.

Education Requirements

The entry level education that may get you into the industry is an associate’s degree. A certification may improve your chances of employment. If you wish to teach or enter the field of research then you may need a bachelor’s or master’s degree as they may offer a larger selection of courses.

Accredited schools listed below will be able to shed some light on certification, license and education requirements. They are also a good resource for learning about the industry’s best practices, news and various publications.

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