dental hygienist job duties

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do? [7 Career Sectors and Job Duties]

Dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals who are trained to prevent and treat oral diseases, as well as protect patients’ overall health.

Are you considering a career in dental hygiene and questioning, “What does a dental hygienist do?” Read on to learn more about the dental hygiene career path, the seven career sectors of the profession, and the dental hygienist job duties you don’t want to miss!

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Dental hygienists can perform a variety of tasks under their license. Typically, in a clinical setting, dental hygienists will:

  • Screen and examine patients’ oral health
  • Review health history and dental charts
  • Take and develop dental x-rays
  • Remove tartar and plaque from surfaces of teeth
  • Apply preventative and protective materials (like sealants and fluoride)
  • Make impressions of patients’ teeth
  • Educate patients on oral hygiene strategies
  • Counsel patients about proper nutrition and its connection to oral health
  • Document care and treatment plans

However, the specific job duties of a dental hygienist can vary, depending on their career sector.

7 Career Sectors and Duties for Dental Hygienists

As defined by the American Dental Hygienist Association (ADHA), the professional roles of the dental hygienist include:

1) Administration

Dental hygienists may fulfill administrative positions such as clinical directors, directors of corporate sales, executive directors of industry associations, and research administrators for universities. In these roles, they may:

  • Communicate objectives
  • Evaluate and modify programs
  • Identify and manage resources

2) Clinical

Clinical dental hygienists are the most common career path. These dental hygienists may fulfill roles in private dental practices, community clinics, correctional facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, and schools – anywhere dental care is needed. In this role, dental hygienists will:

  • Assess, plan, and implement dental care for the prevention and treatment of oral disease
  • Clean and polish teeth, implementing sealants and fluoride treatments
  • Educate patients on oral hygiene techniques, explaining the relationship between diet and oral health

3) Corporate

Corporate positions for dental hygienists include administrators, educators, product researchers, and sales representatives. In these roles, dental hygienists may:

  • Apply clinical expertise to companies promoting the sale of dental products and services

4) Education

Dental hygiene program directors and clinical and classroom instructors use educational theory and methodology to educate students in colleges and universities. Typically, they can be found:

  • Delivering continuing education to licensed dental hygienists in corporations

5) Entrepreneurship

Some dental hygienists are entrepreneurs at heart. They may create new enterprises or develop new business opportunities such as:

  • Product development and sales
  • Employment services
  • Consulting businesses
  • Professional speaking

6) Public Health

In public health, dental hygienists typically fulfill clinical positions in rural or inner-city community clinics, Indian health services, and head start programs where care is needed. Or, they may take on administrative roles like a community clinic administrator. In these public health settings, dental hygienists may:

  • Oversee outreach services like oral health screenings to behavioral health facilities, senior centers, and other underserved populations
  • Teach communities about nutrition, smoking cessation, and at-home oral hygiene

7) Research

Dental hygienists interested in the science behind it all may find research opportunities in colleges, corporations, non-profits, and government agencies. In research roles, they may:

  • Conduct quantitative research like surveys and analyzes results
  • Perform qualitative research by testing new products and procedures for effectiveness

Career Comparison: Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist

As noted above, a dental hygienist is a key member of a patient’s healthcare team. These professionals assess patients for oral diseases, provide preventive dental care, and educate patients on proper oral hygiene.

Those aspiring to launch a career in dentistry may wonder, how does the dental hygienist job duties differ from those of the dental assistant? These careers have unique distinctions.

See: What is the Difference Between a Dental Hygienist vs. Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants mainly adhere to administration tasks and prep work in the dental office, like scheduling and billing patients, maintaining healthcare files, and sterilizing instruments.

On the other hand, dental hygienists work directly with patients — providing cleanings, vital checks, molds for treatments, and more.

Dental Hygienist Job Descriptions: Soft Skills for Success

When researching job postings for a dental hygienist role, prospective applicants will likely find the following preferred common traits and skills:

  • Active listening
  • Adaptability
  • Customer service competencies
  • Critical thinking
  • Detail-oriented
  • Empathy and patience regarding dental fears and cultural and economic circumstances
  • Functional abilities like arm-hand steadiness, finger dexterity, and near vision

Dental Hygiene: A Skillset to Smile About

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual salary for a dental hygienist is $77,810 in the United States. In Connecticut, the yearly median wage for the same position is $94,960.

Employment for dental hygienists is estimated to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030, with 15,600 openings projected yearly.

If you’re searching for additional answers to the question of why study dental hygiene, the American Dental Education Association affirms that dental hygienists are passionate about their profession because they can educate patients, provide a valuable service to others, earn a viable salary with an associate degree, and help patients lead healthier lives. This leads us to our next discussion: launching a dental hygienist career.

A Pathway to a Dental Hygienist Career

An associate degree in Dental Hygiene prepares students to become dental hygienists and provide clinical, educational, and therapeutic services to individuals and communities.

In preparation for this career, a dental hygiene curriculum will include core courses like:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Community and Public Health Dentistry
  • Head and Neck Anatomy
  • Nutrition
  • Pharmacology and Pain Management
  • Principles of Dental Hygiene, and more!

Dental hygiene students can often practice their skills and perfect program outcomes in supervised settings such as dental clinics, facilities, or functional offices.

A flexible dental hygiene program, like an accredited degree program at Goodwin University, offers convenient on-ground and hybrid class formats, with students able to work in as few as 24 months.

Once learners graduate from a dental hygiene program, they are eligible to take the National Board exam. After passing the National Board exams, dental hygiene graduates obtain their Connecticut Dental Hygienist Licensure and are eligible to practice.

Do you want to discover what a degree in dental hygiene can do for you?

Click here to learn more about a compelling career as a dental hygienist!