Hygienists, also known as dental hygienists, perform a variety of functions designed to promote oral health and hygiene. These dental care specialists remove potentially harmful deposits from patients’ teeth. They also examine teeth and gums for signs of disease, decay or other irregularities.
Hygienists may practice with a single dentist or operate on a part-time, rotating basis for multiple dentists. They work with patients individually and assist dentists with different treatments and procedures. Depending on state regulations and their individual employers, hygienists may perform a variety of duties, including:
These professionals should have expert knowledge of safe and effective dental hygiene treatments, techniques and practices. Hygienists should also be well-versed in dental tools and technologies. Excellent organization, communication and interpersonal skills are required to succeed in this profession.
Practicing hygienists are required to have a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school. These programs may require advanced education credits and successful completion of an entrance exam. An associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene from an accredited online or on-site institution may benefit hygienists seeking competitive roles with high profile employers.
Licensing is required by most states for practicing hygienists. The criteria for receiving a license usually involves passing clinical and written exams. The written test is issued by the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. Additional licensing or training may be requested by individual states or employers.
The salary for a hygienist often depends on his or her individual employer, location and skill set. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the median annual wage for dental hygienists was $68,250. Professionals on the lowest end of the pay scale earned an average of $45,000 annually while those on the highest end averaged $93,820 per year for this same period.
The job outlook is considered excellent for dental hygienists, with 36 percent growth expected from 2018. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics attributes this faster than average growth to increased demands for dental care, and the expanded use of hygienists in dental practices.