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.

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Dental hygienists need excellent interpersonal skills as well as manual dexterity.

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

Dental hygienists work to inform children and adults about how to look after their teeth and gums, and carry out some dental procedures. Their work is often directed by a dentist, although it is possible for those with extra training to work independently.

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

Typical employers of dental hygienists

As a dental hygienist, you are likely to be employed by general or community dental services, but you may find a position elsewhere – such as working for a dental hospital or dental services in the armed forces.

You could look for vacancies via the NHS websites (NHS Jobs or NHS Scotland Recruitment) or on the website of the British Dental Journal (BDJ).

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 at two or three A levels or equivalent.

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

Key skills for dental hygienists

  • Good eyesight
  • Manual dexterity
  • The ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time
  • A confident and friendly manner
  • Strong and adaptable communication skills
  • The ability to follow guidance and work efficiently
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