What Is an Oral Hygienist ?
Oral hygienists provide dental patients with preventative oral healthcare services and educate them about dental hygiene. They take dental X-rays and conduct oral examinations to determine the health of a patient’s teeth or gums and identify abnormalities or disease.
Utilizing special instruments they conduct dental cleanings which typically involve the polishing teeth and removing deposits, tarter, stains, and plaque. Sometimes they may apply fluorides or sealants to teeth in order to prevent the formation of cavities. Depending on what State a hygienist works in, they also might conduct duties like administering local anesthetics, removing sutures, smoothing metal restorations, and applying filling materials and periodontal dressings.
They often work alongside dentists during patient treatment and aid them in the diagnosis of oral diseases by preparing diagnostics tests. Hygienists can be employed full-time or part-time at more than one dental office. It is not uncommon for them to work only a few days a week or during the evenings or weekends.
How to Become an Oral Hygienist
Those interested in becoming oral hygienists must complete a dental hygiene program through an accredited school. These types of programs usually result in an associate degree or certificate, although some may lead to a bachelor’s or even master’s degree.
While enrolled in a dental hygiene program, students learn about sciences involved in dental care as well as important aspects of oral hygiene like dental materials, gum diseases, and tissue structure. Common courses include dental hygiene techniques, nutrition, dental anatomy, periodontology, preventive dentistry, radiography, histology, physiology, and clinical dental hygiene.
Most States require students to take a written and practical examination to obtain a license to practice. Many oral hygienists begin in entry-level positions within dental offices to gain practical experience. Those who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene are usually qualified for advanced positions in the areas of clinical practice, oral hygiene instruction, or research.
Oral Hygienist Career Outlook & Salary
As dentists begin to experience heavier workloads and offer more services, they will need qualified professionals to provide preventive dental care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, oral hygienist is among the fastest growing occupations with employment projected to increase by 36% within the next decade. This is due to a growing population that requires more dental services, an increasing awareness of the benefits of preventative dental care, and a larger number of older people who require care for their natural teeth.
While there will be plenty of employment opportunities for oral hygienists, competition for jobs is expected in areas where there are many dental hygiene programs. Experienced oral hygienists who have earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree through a quality program will have the best employment opportunities and most lucrative careers.
The Bureau reported that oral hygienists earned a median annual salary of $66,570 in May 2008.