Dental Hygienist

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Dental Hygienist


How many times have you been told by your dental hygienist to brush and floss your teeth? Probably every time you go to the dentist. However, dental hygienists provide information about maintaining proper oral hygiene for a good reason - your health. Not following their advice and taking your teeth matters into your own hands could land you in serious trouble with various mouth, gum and tooth diseases and infections.

Dental hygienists assess, diagnose and treat oral health conditions through the provision of therapeutic, educational and preventative dental hygiene procedures and strategies to promote wellness. They provide services as clinicians, educators, researchers, administrators, health promoters and consultants. Hygienists assess, diagnose, plan, implement and evaluate dental hygiene care to help prevent oral disease such as cavities and periodontal (gum) disease.

Granted, some people fear seeing the dental hygienist like the plague. Not only do some feel uncomfortable with people picking and poking in their mouths, the scraping of plaque can be quite painful. However, the intention of the hygienist is not to hurt their patients but instead give them a clean and sanitary mouth, rid of all plaque and bacteria. Try to picture them as your friends.

When visiting the hygienist, the first thing they do is assess the patient's mouth, using a probe and mirror to check for cavities, gingivitis and other oral health problems. The next step is the teeth cleaning, which usually starts with scaling, or scraping the teeth with a sharp instrument to remove plaque and tartar. Many hygienists say that if you properly floss your teeth, than you should have no plaque build up and this process will only take a second. Then, they polish the teeth to remove stains and smooth the surface. Some hygienists will then use a fluoride treatment, which works as a preventative measure on a person's teeth. After this procedure, the hygienist will record any abnormalities or important information in the patient's file and then alert the dentist about such problems.

Often during a visit, the hygienist will take x-rays in order to reveal cavities and other problems that are undetectable to the eye. Also, if any other problems exist beneath the gum surface, an x-ray will reveal this. After the examination is completed, the hygienist will discuss any problems found and teach the patient proper dental care techniques and habits that will help prevent future problems. Some dental offices then give patients a new toothbrush and floss.

Some experienced hygienists say that the most fulfilling aspect of their job is knowing they have done their job well, thus playing a role in the prevention of dental decay. If a patient does not have to be referred to a specialist for more serious work and when a patient returns to them with healthy teeth and gums, they have done their job properly.
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  Average Earnings  
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Median Salary:
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  Interests and Skills  
Dental hygienists must enjoy dealing with new people every day and teaching them about dental hygiene. They are responsible, well groomed and in good health. Hygienists also work well as part of a team, and have a steady hand. They can move their hands easily and skilfully and have good visual acuity. Most dental hygienists enjoy taking a methodical approach to tasks that require precision and enjoy helping people.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct an initial dental assessment and consult with dentists on patient care
  • Take dental impressions
  • Instruct patients regarding oral hygiene procedures and implement preventative programs
  • Clean and stimulate the gums to prevent gum disease
  • Remove stains and deposits from teeth to prevent tooth and root decay
  • Apply fluoride treatment or alternative cavity preventing agents
  • Use pain management techniques which may include administration of local anaesthetic by injection
  • Take x-rays and then expose and develop them
  • Counsel clients on oral health care, including quitting smoking
  • May perform restorative and orthodontic procedures under the direction of a dentist
  • May supervise dental assistants in their health care functions.
  • Work as part of an oral health care team which may include dentists, dental assistants and receptionists
  • Dental hygienists work in dental offices during regular office hours. However, depending on the hours of the office in which they work, they may be required to work evenings and weekends. They work sitting down in chairs, looking over the patient's mouth. When taking x-rays, they must observe safety precautions to avoid radiation, and when working with people, must avoid injury or disease caused by biological agents (e.g. bacteria, viruses), or dental instruments and equipment.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Dental hygienists work in private dental offices, hospitals, clinics, universities, colleges and technical institutes, all levels of government, community health agencies, the military, research or consulting companies, dental insurance companies and dental supply companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement as a dental hygienist depends on one's educational background and experience. Teaching, research and administrative positions require academic qualifications beyond the basic diploma program. Alternatively, hygienists could move into sales and work for a pharmaceutical company. They have the proper background knowledge suited for this type of work.

  Educational Paths  
Dental hygienists are required to complete a two- or three-year college program, or other approved program in dental hygiene recognized by the governing board within the region. However, these days, many hygienists graduate with a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene. Those with university undergraduate degrees have better chances of obtaining a good job. Graduates must successfully complete the certification exam. The regional governing body must license hygienists.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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