Dental Hygienist

Builder Icon
Clipboard Icon
Person Icon
Related roles: Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH), Hygienist


Similar Titles

Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH), Hygienist

Job Description

Dental hygienists work with dentists in cleaning patients’ teeth, educating patients on good oral health and examine patients for oral diseases.

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Flexible work schedule (working part-time is an option)
  • Comfortable salary
  • Dental industry is stable and growing.
  • New technology makes it interesting.
  • Regular hours, no emergencies
  • Growth opportunity to be an entrepreneur: industry is changing and convenient care clinics are in demand which provide low cost oral healthcare to underserved communities.
The Inside Scoop
Day in the Life
  • Most offices schedule 8-10 patients a day for prophylaxis (cleaning). Most provide 30 minutes to 1 hour for cleaning, exam (periodontal examination, measurements of the gum and recession by instrument) and x-rays (usually taken by assistant).
  • Writes the charts for the day with complete overview of what was performed, reviewed, seen clinically or via x-ray, and next appointment recommendations.
  • Homecare is an important part of the appointment. To know what the patient routine is and how to add or to modify it for their betterment of oral health.
  • A valuable dental hygienist always sees each mouth differently and treats and educates patient based on their dental history, medical history, and family dental history (since it plays a major role to a patient’s condition).
Skills Needed on the Job
  • Manual dexterity: Ability to use hands with skill and coordination.
  • Good with details
  • Compassion
  • Ability to put patients at ease
  • Good communication skills

“This field requires persistence and care. People matter while they are in your chair as much as the procedure you are rendering; therefore, a clinician must be willing to read the personality of the patient, what keeps them comfortable, and body language. The dental field is all about personal care and compassion that comes from wanting to work with people of all kinds and to care for your patient, each one.  Communication will take a RDH far and most successful in this career path, proper ability to explain what is being taken place and using solid examples to have patient relate in other aspects is also key. To maintain a fulfilling career choice and composure in this field one should really work in a dental office early on to see the scope of the field first on, its limitation, and its weight on the body. Most don’t know that the hygienist is most likely the first to treat the NEW patient in the office, so much relies on how that first visit of treatment and personal care goes to have the patient return.” - Marjan Shafieyan, RDH

Organization Types
  • Dental Offices: Some dental offices might hire a dental hygienist for only 2-3 days so may have to get a job in multiple locations.
  • Convenient Care clinics: low-cost, quality preventative oral health care facilities run by dental hygienists.
Expectations/Sacrifices Necessary
  • Disgruntled patients: People just don’t like to go to the dentist.
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Sometimes hard to find a dentist that you can get along with.
  • You will be touching saliva and the inside of people’s mouths.
  • Industry changes (technology, places of employment) so you must be aware of where the industry is going, how it is changing, how you stay competitive
  • Might not be able to get a full-time job right off the bat. Might have to work part-time then find another part-time job. This is a career where you have to be proactive in finding a job and finding multiple jobs.
Current Industry Trends
  • The cosmetic dentistry industry (such as teeth whitening, veneers, braces and implants) is increasing due to new technology. The growth of these complex procedures provides an opportunity for dental hygienists to take over the more routine and preventive care formerly done by dentists.
  • Convenient Care Clinics: There has been a growing demand for low-cost, quality preventative oral health care and these are run by dental hygienists.
  • Due to medical system focusing more on prevention, there will be a push to improve oral health knowledge and training among family doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other health care workers. Thus, more opportunities for dental hygienists in education and in schools.
What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...
  • Liked going to the dentist.
  • Liked cleaning your teeth and understood why it was important.
  • Enjoyed science classes.
2016 Employment
2026 Projected Employment
Education Needed
  • Associate’s degree in dental hygiene.
  • Pass Dental Hygiene National Board Examination.
  • Get licensed as a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH).
  • Recommend Bachelor’s degree in Science if you might want to continue with other careers related to RDH: research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.
Things to look for in a program
  • High percentage of graduates that passed the national board exam.
  • High percentage of graduates that passed the clinical licensing exam on the first try.
  • High percentage of students that found full-time employment within months of graduation.
  • Good network and alumni involvement to help students find internships and full-time employment
  • Respected faculty in the industry.
Things to do in High School and College
  • Take science classes.
  • Talk to your dental hygienist and dentist about the dental industry.
  • Practice your social skills with different people: Understanding different cultures and being able to communicate with people from all backgrounds will set you apart from other dental hygienists.
  • Learn Spanish: Due to the growing Latino population, those who speak Spanish and have a cultural understanding of the Latino population will have a competitive advantage when finding placement and if they want to start their own clinic.
Education Stats
  • 2.6% with HS Diploma
  • 56.5% with Associate’s
  • 29.9% with Bachelor’s
  • 2.1% with Master’s
  • 2.9% with Doctoral
How to Land your 1st job
  • Intern while you are in school. After your internship, see if there are openings at that practice. If not, ask for a reference letter or a referral. Use that letter when you are applying for other jobs. REFERRALS ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO SET YOU APART!
  • Be willing to intern/work for free to show the dental office your worth.
  • Find and sign up with a local dental hygienist temp/staffing agency.
How to stay competitive and stay in the game
  • Keep up with the technology.
  • Read the trends, the health policies that are being introduced.
  • Continuous education: Be up to date with preventative education.
  • Network and find a mentor: Attend meetings and CE (continuing education) sessions in your area. Connect to ADHA in your local office.

Click here to download the infographic

Dental Hygienist Gladeographix


Jobs by
Source: Interviews, Bureau of Labor Statistics, ONET

Online Courses and Tools