A dental hygienist is different from a dentist in such a way that the former is more focused on preventive care while the latter is more on diagnosis and treatment of dental problems. A dental hygienist provides three general types of services to patients — preventive oral care, patient education on good oral hygiene and therapeutic services for oral diseases. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, dental hygienist jobs are steadily increasing in number from 2010. It is projected that in a span of 10 years, the job will have an increasing rate of 38%, a much faster than average rate compared to other jobs. If you are planning to become a dental hygienist, here is an overview about the job and its qualifications.
Duties of a Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists work together with dentists and dental assistants in offices. They usually work on a part-time basis and may work for more than one dentist. Most of the time, dental hygienists perform the following duties and procedures:
- Prophylaxis such as stain, plaque and tartar removal
- Root planting and scaling for those with periodontal disease
- Applying sealants to teeth
- Administering fluoride
- Taking of dental x-rays and developing
- Patient education on good oral hygiene such as how to brush teeth correctly and flossing correctly
- Provide dental hygiene diagnosis
- Administering local anesthesia (selected jurisdictions only)
Process of Care
Dental hygienists follow a general five-step process in caring for the patient:
1. Patient Assessment
Patient assessment involves taking of full medical history, clinical examination, periodontal assessment and taking of dental x-rays. Documentation is done at this stage.
2. Diagnosis of dental hygiene
All the data gathered during patient assessment will be reviewed and problem(s) will be identified. Any diagnosis made will then need to be approved by the dentist.
3. Treatment Plan
Treatment plan will be based according to the patient’s most immediate needs. Each problem will be addressed in the treatment plan.
Implementation involves carrying out each treatment plan starting from the most immediate to the least urgent needs.
Each treatment method will be evaluated according to its effectiveness. If the treatment is deemed ineffective, a different approach will be carried out in order to address the remaining problems.
Training and Education
Dental hygienists earn an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. However, there are also dental hygienists with a bachelor’s degree, a certificate or even a master’s degree. In the United States, a license is necessary to practice as a dental hygienist. A person who wants to become a dental hygienist should finish a two-year course; pass a written board examination and a clinical board examination.
General education courses needed to become a dental hygienist include college algebra, chemistry and biology. Specialized courses required may include nutrition, anatomy (specifically the oral region), periodontology, pharmacology, radiography, materials science and clinical skills. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is usually applicable for those who want to be in the teaching, research, public clinical practice or school health program fields.
A median salary of $69,000 is reported in 2011, which is particularly good considering that the job is mostly part-time. The top 10 percent earned an average of $95,000 while the lower 10 percent earned an average of $46,000. Most of the high paying jobs were in dental offices, outpatient clinics and ambulatory health care facilities. In the United States, the highest paid dental hygienists can be found in San Francisco and Vallejo in California and in New Haven in Connecticut.
The pay could vary from per hour, per day, per month or on a commission basis. Fulltime workers additionally get benefits such as sick leave, vacation leave and retirement fund contributions. However, only 38% of dental hygienists work fulltime according to Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 data.
Becoming a dental hygienist is more than just earning a certificate / diploma and passing a license exam. It requires certain qualities as well in order to become an effective practitioner. For instance, a good dental hygienist should have compassion for patients and good interpersonal skills in order to work closely with his patients as well as other members of the team. He must have good dexterity as the job involves working with precise tools and with hands. A good dental hygienist must also possess technical skills to enable him to operate various dental machines as well as x-ray machines.