Dental hygienists work closely with their patients to promote dental care and improve dental health. As part of a dynamic profession and one of the most popular occupations in the healthcare and dental care industries, hygienists often enjoy flexible schedules and a rewarding career.
What does a dental hygienist do?
Primarily focused on preventative care, dental hygienists work closely with their patients to improve oral health. Hygienists have the following responsibilities:
- Patient assessments including examinations of the mouth and gums for signs of disease
- Cleaning tartar, plaque and stains from teeth and gums
- Applying fluoride and other cavity preventing agents
- Taking and developing mouth x-rays
- Educating patients about the proper brushing and flossing techniques
- Advising patients about the best over-the-counter products for oral care
- Making impressions for studies, crowns and other oral health needs
- Administering local anesthetics
An additional responsibility of some hygienists is to conduct dental health clinics for community groups. Dental hygienists should have excellent people skills in order to make what can be a scary event for some people into a much more comfortable experience.
Dental hygienists work under the supervision of licensed dentists.
What kinds of training will I need?
Dental hygienists need both training and licensing in order to practice their profession. Most hygienists earn an associate’s degree in dental hygiene with an increasing number of them earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Nationwide there are approximately 270 dental hygiene programs in the United States that are approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association.
After completion of training, which should include some hands on training, hygienists must pass the state-authorized licensure examination as well as earn a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.
Upon licensure, dental hygienists may use “R.D.H.” (Registered Dental Hygienist) after their names.
Will I need to participate in Continuing Education courses?
Yes, Registered Dental Hygienists must complete a certain number of hours as determined by their state of licensure. In Michigan, RDHs must complete 36 Continuing Education (CE) credits within a three year timeframe.
Where will I be able to work?
The most common place for licensed dental hygienists to work is in private dentist’s offices. Outpatient care centers and ambulatory health care services also hire licensed hygienists to work with their patients.
What is the average salary in this profession?
The nationwide median salary for dental hygienists in 2012 was $70,210.* In Michigan, the average annual salary is $60,880.**
What is the career outlook for dental hygienists?
Dental hygiene is a dynamic career choice with nationwide growth in the field predicted be 33% through 2022.* In Michigan, an estimated 21% growth is predicted by 2016.**
What resources are available for dental hygienists in Michigan?
- Michigan Dental Hygienists’ Association (MDHA) provides resources (including information regarding licensing, legislation, continuing education and association activities) for registered dental hygienists in Michigan.
- American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) provides similar resources on a national level.
What are some reasons to help me decide if dental hygiene is the right career for me?
If you will enjoy working on patients’ teeth and gums and the following career aspects appeal to you, dental hygiene may be a great career for you:
- Flexible schedule
- Competitive salary
- Job stability
- People-oriented atmosphere
- Advancement opportunities
Most importantly, dental hygienists have great impact on their patients’ long-term oral health.