Dental hygienists work in cleaning and polishing teeth, supra- and sub-gingival scaling of the teeth, application of prophylactic materials to the teeth, collecting data, administering comprehensive advice on oral hygiene and the care of the mouth, according to patients` needs under the supervision of dental practitioners following her/his directions.
Dental hygienists typically do the following:
- Remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
- Apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
- Take and develop dental x rays
- Assess patients’ oral health and report findings to dentists
- Document patient care and treatment plans
- Educate patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly
The following job titles also refer to dental hygienist:
oral health practitioner
oral health specialist
trainee dental hygienist
registered dental hygienist
qualified dental hygienist
oral health therapist
Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. When taking x rays, they follow procedures to protect themselves and patients from radiation.
Many dental hygienists work part time. Dentists may hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist.
Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene; they may also get a bachelor’s degree. Master’s degree programs in dental hygiene are available but are relatively uncommon. A bachelor’s or master’s degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.
ISCO skill level
ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:
- the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
- the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
- the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.
Dental hygienist is a Skill level 3 occupation.
Dental hygienist career path
These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to dental hygienist.
Long term prospects
These occupations require some skills and knowledge of dental hygienist. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of dental hygienist with a significant experience and/or extensive training.
Essential skills and competences
These skills are necessary for the role of dental hygienist.
- Respond to changing situations in health care: Cope with pressure and respond appropriately and in time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations in healthcare.
- Contribute to continuity of health care: Contribute to the delivery of coordinated and continuous healthcare.
- Promote health and safety policies in health services: Promote adherence to local, regional, national and EU Health and Safety legislation, policies, guidelines and protocols.
- Use e-health and mobile health technologies: Use mobile health technologies and e-health (online applications and services) in order to enhance the provided healthcare.
- Remove calculus, plaque and stains: Remove calculus, plaque, and stains from all surfaces of the teeth according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist`s supervision.
- Empathise with the healthcare user: Understand the background of clients` and patients’ symptoms, difficulties and behaviour. Be empathetic about their issues; showing respect and reinforcing their autonomy, self-esteem and independence. Demonstrate a concern for their welfare and handle according to the personal boundaries, sensitivities, cultural differences and preferences of the client and patient in mind.
- Apply antibacterial substance to teeth: Apply preventive and prophylactic substances, such as sealants and fluoride, to the teeth according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist` supervision.
- Polish dental restorations: Maintain metal, gold and amalgam dental restorations by polishing in order to mitigate the effects of surface corrosion and maintain the esthetic appearance of the restoration according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist`s supervision.
- Deal with emergency care situations: Assess the signs and be well-prepared for a situation that poses an immediate threat to a person’s health, security, property or environment.
- Provide health education: Provide evidence based strategies to promote healthy living, disease prevention and management.
- Deal with patients’ anxiety: Recognise and handle the fears of patients undergoing a dental treatment.
- Communicate effectively in healthcare: Communicate effectively with patients, families and other caregivers, health care professionals, and community partners.
- Follow clinical guidelines: Follow agreed protocols and guidelines in support of healthcare practice which are provided by healthcare institutions, professional associations, or authorities and also scientific organisations.
- Counsel on nutrition and its impact on oral health: Counsel patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health.
- Perform dental charting: Create a dental chart of the patient`s mouth in order to provide information on tooth decay, cavities, missing teeth, the depths of gum pockets, abnormalities in teeth such as rotations, erosion or abrasions in the teeth or enamel, damage to teeth, or the presence of prosthetic teeth according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist`s supervision.
- Educate on oral healthcare and disease prevention: Educate patients on improving oral healthcare and preventing dental diseases, promoting brushing, flossing, and all other aspects of dental care according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist`s supervision.
- Perform dental hygiene interventions: Intervene in dental hygiene to eliminate and control local etiologic factors, in order to prevent caries, periodontal diseases and other oral conditions, or control them when they occur according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist`s supervision.
- Comply with legislation related to health care: Comply with the regional and national legislation that is relevant to one`s work and apply it in practice.
- Listen actively: Give attention to what other people say, patiently understand points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times; able to listen carefully the needs of customers, clients, passengers, service users or others, and provide solutions accordingly.
- Apply health sciences: Apply a broad range of bio-medical, psycho-social, organisational, educational, and societal aspects of health, disease, and healthcare to improve healthcare services and to improve quality of life.
- Work in a multicultural environment in health care: Interact, relate and communicate with individuals from a variety of different cultures, when working in a healthcare environment.
- Promote inclusion: Promote inclusion in health care and social services and respect diversity of beliefs, culture, values and preferences, keeping in mind the importance of equality and diversity issues.
- Interact with healthcare users: Communicate with clients and their carer’s, with the patient’s permission, to keep them informed about the clients’ and patients’ progress and safeguarding confidentiality.
- Follow dentists’ instructions: Work directly with dentists by following their detailed instructions.
- Manage infection control in the facility: Implement a set of measures to prevent and control infections, formulating and establishing health and safety procedures and policies.
- Ensure safety of healthcare users: Make sure that healthcare users are being treated professionally, effectively and safe from harm, adapting techniques and procedures according to the person’s needs, abilities or the prevailing conditions.
- Apply organisational techniques: Employ a set of organisational techniques and procedures which facilitate the achievement of the goals set. Use these resources efficiently and sustainably, and show flexibility when required.
- Develop a collaborative therapeutic relationship: Develop a mutually collaborative therapeutic relationship during treatment, fostering and gaining healthcare users’ trust and cooperation.
- Apply context specific clinical competences: Apply professional and evidence based assessment, goal setting, delivery of intervention and evaluation of clients, taking into account the developmental and contextual history of the clients, within one`s own scope of practice.
- Work in multidisciplinary health teams: Participate in the delivery of multidisciplinary health care, and understand the rules and competences of other healthcare related professions.
- Perform dental radiographs: Take and develop dental radiographs or x-rays for patients, by properly positioning the patient and film/image receptor to take intra- and extra-oral radiographs, applying all regulations for patient safety (shielding, operator protection, beam collimation).
- Accept own accountability: Accept accountability for one`s own professional activities and recognise the limits of one`s own scope of practice and competencies.
- Evaluate clinical outcomes of dental hygiene interventions: Evaluate the outcome of a dental hygiene intervention using indices, instruments, examination techniques, and feedback from the patient and others in order to improve patient health according to the directions and supervision of the dentist.
Optional skills and competences
These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of dental hygienist. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Inform policy makers on health-related challenges: Provide useful information related to health care professions to ensure policy decisions are made in the benefit of communities.
- Keep records for dental prostheses: Make the required records for the laboratory fabrication of dental prostheses and appliances.
- Employ foreign languages in care: Communicate in foreign languages with healthcare users, their carers, or services providers. Use foreign languages to facilitate patient care according to the needs of the patient.
ISCO group and title
3251 – Dental assistants and therapists
- Dental hygienist – ESCO
- Dental Hygienist : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Featured image: Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash