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Dental Hygienist Job Description

A dental hygienist is a person trained to work in a dental office and provide preventative dental care to patients. Dental hygienists are trained to use a variety of tools while cleaning and examining patients’ teeth, and they offer patients assistance in establishing good dental health routines in their daily lives.
Dental hygienists are an essential part of the continuance of good dental health throughout the population, and they work alongside dentists and dental assistants in dental offices. Often, hygienists work for more than one dentist at a time since many dentists only employ hygienists on a part-time basis. Since the work they perform is during dental office hours, hygienists usually work during the day, Monday-Friday. Occasionally, depending on the dental office, hygienists might be required to work evenings and weekends.
Persons wishing to go into the field of dental hygiene should have a caring and compassionate nature since many patients are nervous about dental procedures and have not been to the dentist in many years. It is also important for hygienists to be in good physical shape because they will be standing and bending over patients for much of their day. Excellent communication skills are also an important part of the job due to the constant and close interaction with patients and other staff members. Safety is another consideration in this profession and hygienists wear masks and gloves in order to protect themselves and their patients.

Dental Hygienist Duties

On a daily basis, dental hygienists might perform the following duties:

  • Clean teeth, by removing tartar and plaque
  • Take x rays of patients’ teeth
  • Discuss preventative measures with patients

How To Become A Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental hygienist requires at least an associate’s degree for entry-level employment. After graduating, prospective dental hygienists must pass state exams and then become state licensed.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist program normally takes at least two years to complete. It usually takes several more months after graduating to prepare for and pass state exams and become state licensed. After becoming licensed, one can obtain employment as a hygienist.

Education Requirements

Becoming a dental hygienist requires at least an associate’s degree for entry-level employment. There are some bachelor’s degree programs out there, but they are not as common as the AS programs are. The Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene degree takes at least two years to complete. Hygienist programs are generally found at state or community colleges, dental colleges, or career colleges, and applicants to the program must have a high school diploma or equivalency. During their time in school, students must take prerequisites such as anatomy and physiology and chemistry before applying to the dental hygienist program. After satisfying prerequisites and other general education classes needed for the major, students who are accepted will then engage in several semesters of dental hygiene coursework and a clinical portion where they will gain hands-on experience in an actual dental office setting performing dental hygiene duties. Admission to dental hygiene programs is almost always limited and competitive, so it is important to do well in prerequisite and general education classes.


Dental hygienists can become certified in various specializations. Certifications are sometimes required to work in specialized fields of dentistry or to perform specific duties on the job. Certifications are offered in such areas as administration of anesthesia and restorative function. Obtaining specialized certifications can potentially lead to more employment opportunities and higher wages.


All 50 states require that dental hygienists be licensed. Licensing involves several steps. First, a hygienist must have graduated from an accredited dental hygienist program. In some cases, graduates of non accredited colleges can apply for a license if they have satisfied other special requirements. Hygienists must also pass a state exam possibly consisting of written and practical portions. The entire process to become licensed can take several months. Each state has different licensing requirements so it is best to check with the state in which you would like to become licensed. After becoming state licensed, hygienists will periodically need to attend continuing education classes in order to renew their licenses.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for dental hygienists is excellent. This is a career that is expected to grow rapidly, and between 2012 and 2022, positions in the field will increase by 33% with an expected addition of 69,000 new dental hygienist jobs.
There are several reasons for the growth in this field. New insurance legislation providing access to dental services for a larger portion of the population will increase the need for trained hygienists. Other factors contributing to job growth are the number of people who will retain their original teeth into their older years, and the growing evidence that dental health is important in maintaining overall physical health. Detailed Dental Hygienist salary data is available here.

States With Highest Employment Levels

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