What Is A Dental Hygienist – Definition, Duties, Education requirements, Courses and Salary

Dental hygiene definition

As per ADHA (American Dental Hygienists Association) dental hygienists are oral health professionals whose duty is to treat and prevent oral diseases. They clean your teeth and examine your mouth to notice any signs of damage and infections. They give preventative dental care methods under the direct supervision of a dentist for preventing oral diseases to help you achieve and maintain good oral health. Dental hygienists educate you how to keep good oral health.

No matter in which state dental hygienists practice, they should be state licensed, which needs graduating in a dental hygienist program from a university or college and passing a written state clinical examination and national board examination.

Dental hygienists are different from dental assistants. Dental assistants should usually do their job under a licensed dentist’s direct supervision, but dental hygienists independently do most of their work, with just general guidance from a licensed dental professional.

Dental hygienist Vs dentist

In a dental clinic, the dental hygienist and the dentist perform their duty together in order to meet the dental health requirements of patients. One of the main differences between dental hygienist vs dentist is how much education they have. A dental hygienist just requires a 2-year associate degree dental hygiene degree, whereas a dentist has attended 4-years dental school along with a degree. Both must pass exams to get a license, but a dentist should get a license particular to their state in which they are practicing dentistry.

Dental hygienists normally meet you first and give general teeth care like cleaning your teeth, checking oral diseases, taking x-rays, etc. Dentists come in later to check x-rays, diagnose any problems, perform treatments like dental fillings, root canals, dental crowns, etc. and prescribe medicine.

Dentists get paid more compared to dental hygienists because they are actual doctors, which imply they are expensive for patients. For general care and cleanings, it is efficient to approach a dental hygienist.

What does a dental hygienist do?

Here are the dental hygienist duties and essential responsibilities job description:

Dental hygienists are a vital part of a dental professional team. They take different responsibilities and perform different duties, thus free up the dentist to do more advanced surgical treatments. Hence, it is very common for dental hygienists do most of the preventive oral treatments in the office, like cleaning teeth and application of fluoride. Because each state has its own particular laws regarding the duties of dental hygienists, the range of job functions done by hygienists differs from one state to another state. But, as per ADA (American Dental Association), the basic duties done by dental hygienists include:

  • Screening patients and assess oral health, review oral health history, examining oral cavity to notice any signs of possible cancers or periodontal disease, inspecting head and neck, and reporting finds to the dentist
  • Capturing and developing your teeth x-rays (radiographs) for dentists use
  • Perform dental prophylaxis by cleaning your teeth and removing plaque, stains, and tartar from all your tooth surfaces and beneath gum margins
  • Stock all required supplies and take care of equipment
  • Application of fluorides and sealants to stop tooth decay
  • Assisting when cosmetic dental treatments are performed
  • Specialized dental hygienists are allowed to administer local anesthesia
  • Manage office and perform documentation and treatment plans
  • Educating patients on how to maintain proper oral care like brushing teeth and flossing correctly and guiding good nutrition

Dental hygienist education requirements

To become a dental hygienist, you need at least the associate’s degree programs, which approximately take 2 – 3 years to complete. All states need you to be licensed to practice, therefore you must graduate from an accredited school of dental hygiene school, but requirements differ by state.

You usually require an associate’s degree program in dental hygiene. Once you graduate and receive an associate degree, it allows you to take national and state licensure examinations to become licensed. And then, you can work in a dental clinic. There are bachelors and master’s degree programs are also available in dental hygiene, but they are normally needed for teaching, research, or clinical practice in school or public health programs.

You can find dental hygiene programs in community colleges, technical universities, and dental schools. Programs generally take 2 – 3 years to finish and provide classroom, laboratory, and clinical instruction. Study areas include nutrition, pathology, physiology, radiography, anatomy, periodontics (gum disease), medical ethics, and patient management.

High-school students must take courses in math, biology, and chemistry. Many dental hygienist programs also need you to finish pre-requisites, which often involve college-level course, but particular requirements differ by school.

Dental hygienist school

Educational options at dental hygienist school range from certificates to master’s degrees so that different types of students can complete degrees. Since oral health is the only center of these institutions, you benefit focused knowledge through class lecture, hands-on clinical rotations, and volunteer opportunities.

When deciding which dental hygiene school you must enroll in, you should consider which ones provide flexible schedules, reasonable tuition, and respected professors. Make sure you add accreditation to your checklist.

To become a licensed dental hygienist in your state, it is necessary to attend an accredited dental hygiene school. The CODA (Commission on Dental Accreditation) reviews a school’s objectives, course descriptions, curriculum content, and learning experiences. This procedure makes sure a school meets high standards so that the students can receive a valuable education. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) agency accredits dental hygiene education programs. There are hundreds of CODA-accredited programs of dental hygiene in the United States. https://www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program

If you plan to apply to get the federal financial aid, realize that schools not having accreditation are not qualified to get government funds.

Dental hygienist courses

List of Dental Hygienist Courses

Theory and laboratory Course: A theory and practical course are normally needed as an introductory course at the beginning. You will learn about dental equipment, collecting data, infection control, sanitation processes and problems carried out by dental hygienists. This course includes both lecture and practical work.

Oral anatomy and physiology course: You are needed to study the physiology and anatomy of the oral cavity. You will learn about teeth, primary teeth, permanent teeth, supporting structures, and roots. You will get hands-on experience since this program includes both classroom and lab work.

Oral Pathology Course: You will learn about diseases and disease symptoms normally found in the oral cavity. This course covers microorganisms, immunology, and inflammation. You will learn how to identify abnormal oral conditions, diagnosing patients and following treatment methods.

Periodontal Course: You will learn about the periodontal structure and infections usually encountered by dental hygienists. Topics like gingivitis and oral afflictions are covered. Through class lectures and lab work, you will learn the method for diagnosis and cure periodontal disease. Measures that patients can use to prevent the onslaught of disease are also covered. This course also includes treatment of periodontal disease, surgical and chemotherapeutic, anesthesia, and nutrition.

The coursework will have classes like below:

  • Physiology and anatomy
  • Immunology and Microbiology
  • Introduction to dental hygiene
  • Dental anatomy
  • Radiology
  • Periodontics
  • Pharmacology for dental hygiene
  • Patient and pain management
  • Nutrition
  • Pathology
  • Medical ethics
  • Neck and head anatomy

What is a dental hygienist salary?

The average annual salary for dental hygienists is $72,910. The highest 10 percent earn about $100,170 and the lowest 10 percent earn about $50,870.

The average pay per hour is about $33.16. With bonuses, profit sharing, and some commissions, the total income of dental hygienists usually differs between $48K and $88K as per individual performance. An important factor that affects the salary for a dental hygienist is the residence, company, and the level of experience.

How to become a dental hygienist?

Learn how dental hygienists work.

As a dental hygienist, you have to interact with lots of patients all day. You have to do most of the work with hands, have dexterity, and you should not be turned off by oral care.

So, before you get on this dental hygienist path and spend your money on college and tuition, think about your future goals and profession. For example, if you like to work alone, then it will be difficult to work as a dental hygienist since you have to talk with patients every day. So find a person who is already working as a dental hygienist and ask their experience on the job.

Complete a dental hygienist program

You must have an associate degree in dental hygiene program. This program usually takes 2 – 3 years to finish and the program should be accredited by the CODA – Commission on Dental Accreditation, which functions under the ADA – American Dental Association. You can find an associate-level degree in dental hygiene at dental schools, technical institutions, community colleges, and universities. A lot of programs are also obtainable as an online degree.

Complete licensing requirements

Not only you must complete educational requirements, but you should also be licensed. The state mandates these requirements and varies depending on the place, but you can satisfy the majority by showing proof of:

  1. Getting the diploma from a CDA-accredited program
  2. Passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination successfully, a comprehensive written test
  3. Completing a regional or state-level clinical board examination

Once you complete these 3-steps, you are considered fully licensed. Then you are allowed to add “RDH” to your names, indicating you are a registered dental hygienist.

Complete additional training

Continuing education provides additional and updated knowledge during your career such as serving people with special health care requirements and learning how lasers feature into oral health. You can get a list of what courses are available from local dental hygiene programs and also take courses given by the state and regional chapters of the ADHA (American Dental Hygienists’ Association).

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