Dental hygienists provide preventive care to patients. One of their primary responsibilities is teaching patients how to practice good oral hygiene. This may include explaining the relationship between diet and oral health, and showing patients how to brush and floss their teeth. Hygienists use dental instruments to remove calculus, stain, and plaque from teeth. They take and develop dental x-rays. Hygienists sometimes make a preliminary diagnosis or prepare clinical and laboratory tests for the dentist to interpret. Hygienists may sometimes work chair-side with the dentist during treatment.
- Dentist offices
- Employment services
Almost all dental hygienists work in dentist offices and practices. They must strictly adhere to safety standards for radiological procedures, handling needles and sharps, and infection control procedures which include wearing personal protective equipment. Dental hygienists should also be careful to avoid possible shoulder and neck injury from sitting for long periods of time while working with patients.
Flexible scheduling is a distinctive feature of this job. Full-time, part-time, evening and weekend schedules are common. Dentists frequently hire hygienists to work only 2 or 3 days a week, so hygienists may hold jobs in more than one dental office.
Employment of dental hygienists is expected to increase 36 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. This projection ranks dental hygienists among the fastest growing occupations. Growing demand will be fueled by population growth, middle-aged and older people retaining their teeth, and a growing emphasis on preventative dental care. Dentists will increasingly employ dental hygienists, often to perform services that have been performed by dentists in the past, in order to concentrate their time on more complex procedures.
- Ability to lean the techniques and sciences related to dental hygiene
- Good verbal ability to instruct others
- Good manual dexterity, space and form perception, and eye-hand coordination
- Ability to relate to a variety of people who may be tense and nervous
- Ability to do precise work
- Patience and tact
An associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited dental hygiene school is required for this career. Coursework includes subjects such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition, radiography, histology, periodontology, pathology, dental materials, clinical dental hygiene, as well as social and behavioral sciences. Degree programs will include laboratory work as well as supervised clinical instruction.
A State license is required, An applicant for licensure as a dental hygienist must be at least 19 years of age, graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program, and pass the required exams.
Programs in Nebraska
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Other careers where workers support health practitioners:
- Dental assistants
- Medical assistants
- Occupational therapy assistants
- Physical therapy assistants
- Physician assistants
- Registered nurses
For more information on a career in dental hygiene, accredited programs, or licensure:
- American Dental Association Department of Guidance
- American Dental Hygienists’ Association
- Nebraska Dental Hygienists’ Association
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Dental Hygienists, on the Internet at www.bls.gov