Dental Hygienist

Pros


  • Helping people with their dental problems as well as providing preventive care.
  • Many hygienists have the ability to work part-time or have flexible schedules to fit with their lifestyle.
  • This type of work is good for a person that likes to work with their hands.

Cons

  • The majority of work will require you to perform tasks in someone else’s mouth.
  • This is not a good job for those who are squeamish.
  • You will need to work with a wide array of people. This requires communication skills and a good personality.

Overview

Dental hygienists provide preventive dental treatments to their patients. They work with dentists, dental assistants and other hygienists to care for a patient’s teeth. When someone goes to a dentist’s office they will usually be treated initially by a hygienist during a routine check-up. A hygienist will usually begin treatment by examining teeth for abnormalities that may need further attention. Often they will take x-rays of a person’s mouth for further analysis.

After a hygienist has examined a patient’s teeth, they will use instrumentation that cleans the teeth of hard and soft deposits. To protect themselves, they will wear surgical masks and safety glasses. Cleaning is done mainly with floss and a rotary or ultrasonic tool. They will apply preventive solutions such as fluoride or sealants to protect teeth. Hygienists also spend time talking to patients about caring for their teeth. This can include educating people about the impact that diet and lifestyle choices have on teeth. They also spend time talking to patients about techniques and habits the keep teeth healthy.

A hygienist works in a dental office, and often because of the nature of the work they will be employed part time. This allows a lot of flexibility for a hygienist. Many of them work in another dental office part-time. Sometimes hygienists have another career or interest that they pursue with the remaining time. A minority of hygienists will find full-time work in corporate or academic settings.

Education

Those wishing to become a dental hygienist will need to obtain a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school. The requirements to apply to those programs are quite varied, with some requiring applicants to have some college already completed. At a minimum a student needs to complete an associate’s degree, but due to the level of competition in some regions it may be necessary to obtain a bachelor’s degree. There are master’s programs for dental hygiene as well. Once a student has completed their education, they must become licensed by passing a written and clinical exam.

Job Prospects

This is a field that is experiencing high job growth and therefore prospects are very good. Many people have dental insurance through their employer, and usually this allows them to get regular check-ups done at their dentist’s office. While in the past a dentist would perform some of the dental hygiene responsibilities for patients, more often than not they will hire a hygienist to do preventive work. This allows dentists to concentrate on more intensive procedures such as surgery. Some of this can also be attributed to a growing population and the fact that older people are more likely to keep their teeth.

Advancement Opportunities

Entry-level hygienists will work doing patient examinations and cleaning procedures at a dentist’s office. Many experienced hygienists will do the same work. Because of this, advancement is difficult. The best way to gain more responsibilities is to continue pursing education in dental hygiene, such as gaining a bachelor’s degree. Those who obtain a master’s degree in the subject can be found in many different workplaces, such as educational institutions or corporations.