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 effects 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 Medical Services, university dental schools and teaching hospitals, and large private companies and organisations. Hygienists are also employed by community clinics, which work with patients with a range of special and additional 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, as well as on the NHS jobs website.

Qualifications and training required

You need to register with the General Dental Council (GDC) in order to practise as a dental hygienist, and in order to register you need to have completed a GDC-approved qualification. These are offered at a range of levels:

  • a foundation degree in oral health science
  • a diploma of higher education (DipHE) in dental hygiene, or dental hygiene and dental therapy
  • a degree in oral health science, or dental therapy and dental hygiene

The foundation degree and diploma courses usually take two years to complete, while the degree course usually takes three years. To get onto a degree course you will usually need five GCSE passes or equivalent, including maths, English and a science, plus at least two A levels or equivalent, including one in a science subject.

Information about available courses is provided on the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) website.

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

Key skills for dental hygienists

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.

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