DENTAL HYGIENIST: Definition, Roles, Salary, How to Become One and Difference

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Dental hygienists provide a specific range of clinical services to their patients. They examine patients in order to provide patient-specific preventive and educational treatments to promote and maintain good oral health. Periodontal therapy, which includes periodontal charting, periodontal debridement (scaling and root planing), prophylaxis (disease prevention), and periodontal maintenance procedures for patients with periodontal disease, is the primary duty of a dental hygienist. Therapeutic strategies help their patients control oral illness while delivering personalized treatment plans that highlight the relevance of behavioral adjustments. This article will explain what a dental hygienist does, how to become one, and the job outlook for this oral health care profession. 

Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist, or an oral hygienist, is a licensed dental professional registered with their country’s dental organization or regulating authority. Registered dental hygienists must obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from an authorized college or university before taking the clinical and written board tests. Hygienists are primary healthcare professionals who operate independently or in collaboration with dentists and other dental professionals to provide comprehensive oral health care. They have received training and education in the prevention and treatment of a variety of oral disorders. Dentists and other healthcare professionals collaborate with dental hygienists to help patients maintain good oral health. As a dental hygienist, you’ll provide basic oral cleanings and care, provide preventative choices, screen for potential problems, and assist dentists in addressing a variety of health conditions affecting patients’ mouths, teeth, and gums. 

Dental hygienists employ a variety of instruments in their job, including hand, power, and ultrasonic tools. In several instances, a laser is used. Hygienists remove stains using an air-polishing apparatus, which sprays a mixture of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a powerful instrument that functions similarly to an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists also utilize X-ray machines to take photographs of teeth and jaws to diagnose abnormalities.

Dental hygienists educate patients on how to maintain healthy teeth and gums. They could, for example, explain the connection between nutrition and dental health. They may also advise patients on the best toothbrushes and other oral care products to use. Dental hygienists protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases by wearing safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves. They follow precautions to safeguard themselves and patients from radiation when taking X-rays.

5 Roles of a Dental Hygienist

As a dental hygienist, you must be dependable and capable of establishing confidence with patients of all ages. You should be well-versed in relevant health and safety regulations, as well as have a keen eye for oral disorders and irregularities. The duties of a dental hygienist include doing initial patient exams, cleaning teeth (e.g., removing plaque), and educating patients on oral health and preventative care. You’ll also assist dentists in determining treatments for tooth or gum disease and dealing with dental emergencies.

#1. Patient Screenings

A dental hygienist’s work tasks include patient screenings. Before the patient is brought in to see the dentist, the hygienist will perform a quick exam to assess the overall health of the patient’s teeth. Depending on his or her health, the hygienist may perform a more thorough checkup. This enables the hygienist to detect indicators of tooth decay and gum disease. Before the dentist completes an examination, the hygienist will normally relay his or her findings to him or her.

#2. Patients’ Care

Many of the duties of a dental hygienist revolve around the treatment of patients. This can include removing tartar and plaque from teeth, delivering fluoride treatments to patients with weak teeth, and placing sealants on fractured or damaged teeth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dental hygienists perform routine cleanings and detailed evaluations on new and existing patients to assist the dentist in determining how to treat those patients. They also provide other services like root planning and scaling. A dental hygienist’s responsibilities include taking X-rays, instructing patients on how to care for their teeth at home, and doing routine checkups.

#3. Patient Consultation

Another key aspect of the profession is assisting patients. If a patient has delayed going to the dentist for a long time, he or she may feel uneasy during the appointment and concerned about what the dentist will think. The hygienist can assist in calming the patient and assuring them that they are just concerned with resolving the existing problems. Patient counseling might also include assistance following therapy. For example, if a patient has root planing and scaling to treat gingivitis, the hygienist will teach the patient what he or she should and should do at home.

#4. Patient Guidance

Those seeking a job as a dental hygienist may not realize that patient awareness is one of the responsibilities of the position. Unfortunately, not many patients learn how to properly care for their teeth at a young age. They may present with one or more missing teeth, numerous cavities, or severe gum disease. Some patients also fear the dentist, which prevents them from keeping regular checkups. Dental hygienists assist in making patients feel at ease during their sessions and educating them on how to care for their teeth in between visits.

#5. Impressions and X-rays

X-rays are frequently taken by dental hygienists. Many offices now employ sophisticated X-ray machines that can capture an entire set of photos in a matter of minutes. Dental hygienists can also take impressions of individual teeth or groups of teeth to be used in the fabrication of implants, dentures, and other oral accessories.

Dental Hygienist Salary

As of May 2021, the typical salary for a dental hygienist is $77,810, or $37.41 per hour, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those who work in private dental practices typically earn the most money. In the United States, there are currently approximately 206,100 registered dental hygienists. In a clinical context, a dental hygienist gets roughly half the salary of a dentist but double the salary of a dental assistant. The median annual compensation for dentists is more than $163,000, and dental assistants make close to $39,000. Dental hygienists can expect to earn between $51,130 and $115,510 per year. Dental hygienists may be self-employed or employed directly by a dental practice, so your working hours and salary will vary, but you may be required to work some late or weekend hours.

If you work for the NHS in a hospital or community clinic, your beginning wage could be in Agenda for Change pay bands 5 or 6. Typically, you’ll work 37.5 hours each week. The following were the median yearly salary for dental hygienists in the leading industries in May 2021:

$77,810 for dental offices

Physicians’ offices $77,290

Government $64,110

Vacation, sick leave, and retirement contributions vary by firm and may be restricted to full-time employees only. Many dental hygienists operate on a part-time basis. Dentists may recruit hygienists to work only a few days a week, hence, some hygienists work only a few days a week. According to Glassdoor, the following are sample dental hygienist salaries by experience:

  • 1-3 years: $88,242 
  • 4-6 years: $94,241
  • 7-9 years: $99,597
  • 10-14 years: $110,797
  • 15+ years: $126,585

How Many Years to Become a Dental Hygienist?

Dental hygienists in Canada must have finished a diploma degree, which can take anywhere from 19 months to 3 years to accomplish. Following graduation, all dental hygiene students must pass the NDHCB examination.  This examination is given three times a year, in January, May, and September. Dalhousie University, the University of Alberta, and the University of British Columbia all offer Bachelor of Science degrees in Dental Hygiene. Dental hygienists in Australia must hold an advanced diploma (TAFE), an associate degree, or, more commonly, a bachelor’s degree from a dental hygiene school accredited by the Australian Dental Council (ADC) under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. The National Law requires dental hygienists, oral health therapists, and dental therapists to have the same level of professional responsibility as dentists, dental specialists, and dental prosthetists. They must also complete 60 hours of mandated continuing professional development over a three-year period. 

In the United States, all dental hygienists must be licensed by the state in which they operate after finishing a minimum of two years of education and passing a written board exam known as the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination as well as a clinical board exam. They must also complete 60 hours of mandated continuing professional development over a three-year period. To pursue these occupations, regardless of level, you will require a dental hygiene degree. Community college and technical school programs normally take roughly three years to complete, including necessary courses in dental hygiene.

The Dental Hygienist Course in India is a two-year diploma program. The Dental Council of India regulates and controls the Dental Hygienist course. After completing the course, a dental hygienist should register with a state dental council. 

Dental Hygienist vs Dentist

Dentists are on the front lines of oral health. They collaborate with communities to prevent and cure dental/oral disease, dental abnormalities, and dental/facial trauma. You’ll give patients guidance and use your physical dexterity to perform sophisticated surgical and dental treatments. Your education will provide you with an excellent understanding of human anatomy and oral illness, as well as the greatest practical skills to serve your patients. Dentists and dental hygienists both play important roles in oral health care, but their educational requirements, employment duties, and remuneration differ. If you’re interested in dentistry and oral health, you should study both career pathways so you can decide which one is best for you. 

A dentist is a medical expert who specializes in the study of oral health as well as the diagnosis and treatment of dental illnesses. Dentists also perform tooth repair, extraction, and replacement. They provide critical care to their patients through regular examinations, cleanings, and guidance. They also educate patients on how to maintain their oral health in between appointments. Similarly, a dental hygienist is an oral health specialist who works with patients prior to seeing and evaluating them by the dentist. Dental hygienists take critical steps to prepare patients for operations and exams. A dental hygienist frequently takes X-rays, cleans patients’ teeth, removes plaque, and polishes teeth. They may also look for symptoms of oral disorders.

A dentist’s annual pay is $236,825 on average.  Dentists can work as part of a major dental health office or on their own in a smaller setting. Dental hygienists make an average of $78,828 a year. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, both of these jobs frequently produce better weekly and annual wages than other careers with comparable educational requirements.

What Is the Highest Paid Dental Hygienist?

The average dental hygienist’s income is slightly over $81,360 per year, with higher earners exceeding $100,200 per year, depending on the cost of living in your area and the amount of experience you have.

How Much Money Will a Dental Hygienist Make?

While ZipRecruiter reports monthly earnings as high as $9,625 and as low as $3,667, the majority of dental hygienist salaries in the United States now vary from $5,833 (25th percentile) to $7,750 (75th percentile).

How Long Does a Dental Hygienist Take?

Depending on the degree of schooling you seek, becoming a dental hygienist might take anywhere from two to four years. To operate as a dental hygienist, you must be licensed by your state as well as by the American Dental Association.

Is it Worth it to be a Hygienist?

Yes, becoming a dental hygienist is worthwhile. They do oral examinations and evaluate patients for symptoms of oral illnesses such as gingivitis. Dental hygienists also give preventive care and cleanings to patients, ensuring that they leave with a clean and healthy smile.

Do Dental Hygienists Do a Lot of Math?

Arithmetic fundamentals are needed. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are all required skills for hygienists. Many hygienists help with paperwork such as patient bills or insurance claims.

What Is the Lowest Paid Dental Hygienist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental hygienists earn a median annual pay of $77,810, or $37.41 per hour. The last ten percent of dental hygienists earn less than $60,100 per year, while the top ten percent earn more than $100,200 per year.

What Is the Fastest Way You Can Become a Dental Hygienist?

The most direct route to becoming a dental hygienist lasts roughly two years. Almost every state requires dental professionals to have graduated from an American Dental Association-accredited dental hygiene program.

Is Dental Hygienist Stressful?

Dental hygiene is a highly emotional profession, and these emotional demands are more likely to lead to burnout and reduce job satisfaction. Dental hygienists leaving clinical dental hygiene faced physical challenges.

What Do Dental Hygienists Use to Clean Teeth?

A scaler is a hook-shaped metal tool used by dentists and dental hygienists to scrape plaque and tartar from your teeth. It has a pointed end for usage above the gum line and a curved blunt end for use at the base of your teeth without damaging the gum tissue.


During a dental visit, a Dental Hygienist analyzes patients for indicators of oral illnesses such as gingivitis and provides preventive therapy. They also teach patients about dental hygiene in order to help them maintain good oral health. A good Dental Hygienist must have excellent communication skills since they interact directly with patients and must be conversant with various dental devices because they perform X-rays and other procedures on patients.

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