What Does a Dental Hygienist Do? (With Career Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 4 December 2022

Published 18 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Dental hygienists are health care professionals who work with dentists to ensure the oral health of their patients. Dental hygienists have numerous tasks, including cleaning patients' teeth and informing them of good oral health practices. If you enjoy working with people and have an interest in the health care field, becoming a dental hygienist may be a good career choice for you. In this article, we answer the question 'What does a dental hygienist do?' and provide more information about being a dental hygienist, including the benefits of the career, how to become one, their salary and work environment.

Related: What Does an Oral Health Therapist Do? (With Requirements)

What does a dental hygienist do?

The answer to the question 'what does a dental hygienist do' is that they examine and clean patients' teeth. They typically offer preventative care to help patients to avoid oral diseases and they also teach patients about maintaining good oral health. Dental hygienists perform the following tasks:

Clean patients' teeth

Dental hygienists are responsible for cleaning patients' teeth and gums. They use ultrasonic devices to clean deeply and power polishing tools to eliminate stains. They may also use handheld implements to remove plaque and tartar. For some patients, a dental hygienist may provide a fluoride treatment to strengthen enamel and protect teeth from decay.

Examine patients' teeth

These dental professionals are responsible for examining patients' teeth and mouths to look for signs of oral diseases. When examining a patient's teeth, dental hygienists use tools to count teeth and study gums. If they find anything concerning or abnormal, dental hygienists consult dentists.

Monitor patients' oral health

Dental hygienists document the procedures they perform and the issues they discover. They review patients' dental histories during each visit to ensure that they're maintaining good oral health and following recommended treatment plans. This is especially important with younger patients, as their teeth are still developing. It can also be important for elderly patients, who may experience age-related changes in their dental health.

Teach patients about good oral health

Many dental hygienists advise patients on how to achieve better oral health by brushing and flossing their teeth regularly. They may offer advice and provide patients with educational pamphlets to review. Many dental hygienists also provide sample dental care items when needed, such as interdental brushes or floss.

Collaborate with dentists

Dental hygienists often work under the supervision of or in collaboration with a dentist. Some dentists allow dental hygienists to perform more tasks than others, depending on the preferences and specialisms of the dentist. This means that the role of a dental hygienist may vary according to the dentist with whom they work.

Benefits of being a dental hygienist

Working as a dental hygienist can be a rewarding career for many. Here are some of the benefits of being a dental hygienist:

Flexibility

Working as a dental hygienist can allow you flexibility in your working schedule as you're able to work full-time or part-time. Because dental hygienists perform non-emergency work, they can also keep predictable, regular working hours. Dental surgeries are usually open during normal business hours, with many offering shorter days on the weekend. Working these hours can help you to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Related: How Many Work Hours in a Week Is Effective in Singapore

Salary

Dental hygienists make an average salary of $3,318 per month. A professional's salary often depends on their location, experience level, employer and educational credentials. Dental hygienists who earn bachelor's degrees or speciality degrees can often earn more than those who pursue associate's credentials.

Job security

Because people need dental hygienists to maintain their oral health during the course of their lives, this career often has many job opportunities. Health care careers are usually reliable career choices because the need for accessible health care practices grows with the population. As a dental hygienist, you also have the option to continue your education to advance your career and expand your promotion opportunities.

Read more: Oral Health Therapist vs. Dentist (Salary and Skills Included)

Low-stress work environment

Many consider working as a dental hygienist to be a low-stress job. This is because dental hygienists don't perform emergency procedures and have consistent, regular work schedules. Usually, the work environment of dental hygienists is calm. They may stand for long periods, though it isn't a particularly physically demanding job, other than requiring strength and dexterity in the hands and wrists. Since dental hygienists work regular hours, they can often maintain a good work-life balance, which can help to minimise work-related stress.

Related: Top 20 Low-Stress and High-Paying Jobs

Personal fulfilment

You may be able to gain great personal fulfilment from working as a dental hygienist. This is because these professionals help a diverse group of patients, ranging in age and background. If you're a sociable person, this is especially beneficial as you work directly with the public. You also may feel a certain level of pride in your career, as dental hygienists can help to make a visible difference in their patient's health and self-esteem.

How to become a dental hygienist

Consider following these steps if you want to pursue a career as a dental hygienist:

1. Earn a degree

Dental hygienists need an associate's or a bachelor's degree from a university. These degrees include coursework in biology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and radiology. They also offer interactive courses during which students perform supervised dental care.

Associate's degree programmes generally take two years to complete, while bachelor's degree programmes typically require three to four years. Although an associate's degree meets the minimum requirements for many job listings, dental hygienists may be able to get higher-level positions or increase their earning potential with a bachelor's degree. Some dental hygienists also pursue a master's degree, which you can complete in one or two years.

2. Complete Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification

It's a good idea to get certified in CPR so that you can provide emergency assistance. This can strengthen your credentials and make you eligible for more positions. To earn this certification, attend a first aid course. While the time commitment depends on the class you attend, many professionals can complete the first aid training coursework in around six hours. You might repeat this education to maintain the validity of your certification.

3. Obtain a licence

Research the Singapore Dental Council to learn more about the licensing process. If you do need a licence, keep yours valid by pursuing continuing education requirements. Typically, professionals can earn a licence by completing a certain number of practice hours, finishing coursework and passing a licensing exam.

4. Cultivate important skills

To excel as a dental hygienist, take steps to hone your key soft skills. For example, good attention to detail and critical thinking skills are also helpful. Here are some skills that you can consider developing to further your career as a dental hygienist:

  • Observation

  • Patience

  • Communication

  • Problem-solving

  • Dexterity

  • Empathy.

Related: Soft Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

5. Create a CV

When you have completed all the dental hygienist requirements, create a CV that you can submit to potential employers. Include your education, qualifications, licence, skills and relevant work experience. It's helpful to use a template to create your CV as it can save your time and effort while ensuring that you use an appropriate format.

Related: What Is a Resume? (Plus How To Write and Format a Resume)

6. Find and apply for dental hygienist jobs

You can find dental hygienist jobs online, using a search feature like Indeed. To find places to submit your application, you can research dental offices and hospitals in your area. You can also reach out to professionals within your network to look for opportunities.

7. Prepare for interviews

You can prepare for interviews by preparing answers to questions that the hiring manager may ask you. Review the job description and identify how your skills and experience align with it. You can practise your body language and answering and asking questions in mock interviews with family or friends.

Related: How To Prepare for an Interview

Dental hygienist work environment

Dental hygienists work in dentist offices and do much of their work in treatment rooms. When examining patients or cleaning their teeth, they typically sit in chairs or stools.

Because they may encounter infectious diseases, dental hygienists wear gloves, eyewear and face masks to protect themselves. They also follow safety protocols to guard both themselves and patients from radiation emitted from X-rays.

Dental hygienists may work standard office hours, or they may work weekends or evenings to accommodate patients' schedules. Most work part-time jobs, assisting dentists on select days each week. Those who are seeking full-time employment may have part-time jobs with more than one dentist.

Related: How to Write an Orthodontist Resume (With an Example)

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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