Dental Hygienists Job Description

A Dental Hygienist’s Career

People who visit this page, often also visit these pages:

Dental Hygienist Salary
Dental Hygienist Training and Education

Dental Hygienist Job Description

Sailor Kentuck native cleans the teeth of an Ecuad…—Official U S Navy Imagery (Flickr.com)

A career in the field of dental hygiene can be both a rewarding and a challenging one. Obviously, the primary job involves cleaning teeth and educating patients about maintaining dental hygiene; however, many in this field also take on quite a number of additional duties, including placing fillings and administering local anesthetic.

The Dental Hygienist’s Job Outlook

Dental hygiene is a field with a high demand for well-trained professionals. There are currently over 180,000 practicing dental hygienists in the US (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and the job market for dental hygienists is projected to grow by a whopping 36% by 2018! In fact, US News has listed the profession as one of their six “hot jobs” for 2012 with regards to opportunity, salary and work environment.

Of course, in certain areas, jobs are simply hard to come by due to economic reasons. Some regions also have too many graduates in this field, thus the market is somewhat over-saturated. In many cases though, this is due to students opting for an associate’s degree rather than a four-year bachelor’s degree. Employers will obviously prefer a higher level of training, so those who choose a two-year degree may have a harder time finding lucrative employment.

Overall, however, the field is definitely growing and salaries are going up. Dentistry in general is an ongoing need and the demand is great – so it’s a fairly safe field to be in.

A Day in the Life of a Dental Hygienist

Obviously, depending on where you work, your daily duties will look a little different. Many dental hygienists work in public or private health care facilities, and they usually work directly with one or more dentists.

Make no mistake though: a dental hygienist is not a dentist’s assistant. You might assist dentists from time to time, and your work will certainly complement and support theirs, but your job will be a unique and vital part of patient care. In fact, some dental hygienists eventually decide to open their own private clinics – and even end up employing dentists in some cases.

Regardless of where you work though, many of your duties will remain the same. After all, your primary task will always be to ensure the oral health and hygiene of your patients.

Your day will likely begin by setting up and prepping your workspace before seeing your first patient. You’ll need to make sure your autoclave is working properly and that all your instruments are properly sterilized (keeping necessary records when required by guidelines).

As you meet with each patient, you will carry out screening and monitoring of their dental health. You will likely be called upon to perform preliminary examinations on patients to determine the source of their discomfort. You’ll check their teeth and gums, prepare lab tests, and possibly make a preliminary diagnosis before the patient goes on to see the dentist.

When you meet with patients, you may also be responsible to make sure that they are properly prepared for any dental work. Some patients may have been instructed to take certain medications or antibiotics, while others taking Warfarin would need to have their numbers checked so that the lack of blood clotting doesn’t become a problem once dental work begins. Some patients forget these small things, but negligence in this area can be life-threatening.

You will clean your patients’ teeth by removing plaque and calculus. You will polish their teeth, and sometimes you’ll need to apply antibacterial materials, topical fluoride or fissure sealant to prevent tooth decay. You will also check your patients for signs of gingivitis and peritonitis and treat any existing symptoms.

While you’ll be doing a lot of restorative work on existing oral disease, a large part of your job will also be preventative – meaning, you’ll be responsible for educating your patients about proper oral care. You will teach your patients how to treat their teeth right, how to clean them properly, and how to prevent oral diseases. A dental hygienist is usually well-versed in the nutritional aspects of dental care as well, so you’ll be responsible to teach the importance of a balanced diet for oral health.

Throughout your day, you will need to make careful entries in each patient’s dental records, following the procedures and policies of your practice, and taking great care to obey the industry’s ethical guidelines on data protection and patient confidentiality.

If you work without a nurse, you will also be responsible to clean and sterilize all of your equipment and working surfaces after seeing each patient. Even if a nurse is available to perform these duties, you will need to ensure that sterile conditions are maintained and sharp and clinical wastes are disposed of properly.

You will also need to wear protective clothing as you visit with each patient. You will typically wear a white coat, gloves, safety goggles, and a mask to protect both you and your patients from infection and bacteria. You will also need to pay close attention to your hand cleanliness since you’ll have your hands in patients’ mouths all day. You will be required to dispose of your surgical gloves right after treatment and wash your hands immediately before and after each procedure.

Some Handy Skills

Aside from the obvious technical skills you’ll need, it can be very helpful to develop a sincere interest in the welfare of your patients. This will enable you to treat each one in a friendly, confident and caring way. It will also help you to develop good communication skills as you listen to patients and instruct them in dental hygiene.

You will also need a good degree of manual dexterity and a sharp eye as your work will require some delicate procedures and good coordination. You’ll need to be able to concentrate for long periods of time and pay close attention to detail.

Further Opportunities

While these are the typical duties of a dental hygienist, further opportunities are available to you as you progress in your career. You may choose to further your training and go on to work in education, research or administration. Some, for example, choose to go into research for companies that develop dental equipment. Others find fulfillment educating children about proper oral hygiene. The career of a dental hygienist is a rewarding one – and it can potentially become even more so as you branch into further opportunities that best match your personality and goals.