Dental hygienist: job description

Dental hygienist: job description

Dental hygienists help to prevent dental decay by cleaning patients' teeth and providing them with education about how to care effectively for their teeth and gums, and the affects of diet on oral health.
Dental hygienists need excellent interpersonal skills as well as manual dexterity.

What does a dental hygienist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Most dental hygienists work for private, NHS or mixed dental practices. Specialist opportunities occur within hospitals, the armed forces Defence Dental Services – now part of the Defence Medical Services (DMS) – university dental schools and teaching hospitals, and large private companies and organisations. Hygienists are also employed by the Community Dental Services (CDS), which treats patients with various specific needs. Responsibilities of the job include:

  • providing dental health education about tooth care and diet
  • removing plaque and calculus by scaling and polishing teeth
  • taking impressions and/or dental radiographs of teeth
  • applying prophylactic/antibacterial materials, fissure sealants and topical fluorides to help prevent tooth decay
  • carrying out screening and monitoring procedures
  • treating and helping to prevent gum disease
  • ensuring that sterile conditions are maintained
  • offering advice and encouragement to patients
  • working closely with and under the instruction of dentists
  • using a range of dental instruments
  • keeping up to date with new developments within the profession and maintaining patient dental records

Vacancies are advertised online, in newspapers and specialist publications including the British Dental Journal, Dental Practice and the Health Service Journal.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into a dental hygiene career for both university graduates and school leavers.

Graduates will need to complete a three-year oral health science degree, together with General Dental Council (GDC) registration. Some exemptions may be available to candidates with alternative qualifications/experience.

School leavers can also qualify by studying a two-year diploma in dental hygiene. Information about available courses is provided on the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) website. Previous experience gained working as a dental nurse or a dental surgery assistant is usually required prior to entry onto training courses.

For information on school leaver routes into careers in this area, visit our public sector page of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for dental hygenists

Good eyesight and manual dexterity skills are essential, as is the ability to maintain concentration for lengthy periods of time. Having a mature, friendly, confident and caring manner is important, as is the possession of appropriate personal characteristics such as effective interpersonal, communication, teamwork and listening skills.