The Dental Hygiene Profession

Dental hygienists examine patients' teeth and oral tissues, recording the presence of diseases or abnormalities. They remove calculus, stains, and plaque from teeth; take and develop x-rays; educate patients about diseases that affect the oral cavity and periodontium, and apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and pit and fissure sealants.

Dental hygienists complete a full assessment of the health of the periodontium and prepare a dental hygiene diagnosis as well as clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for the dentist to interpret.

Dental hygienists also help patients develop and maintain good oral health by educating them on the relationship between diet and oral health and the link between oral health and such serious conditions as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and pregnancy complications.

Dental hygienists must be licensed by the state in which they practice. To qualify for licensure, a candidate must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school and pass both a written and a clinical exam. In addition, most states require an examination on the ethical and legal aspects of dental hygiene practice.

An associate degree is sufficient for practice in a private dental office. A bachelor's degree or master's degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

Employment Outlook

Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations in response to increasing demand for dental care and the greater substitution of the services of hygienists for those previously performed by dentists.

Population growth and greater retention of natural teeth will stimulate demand for dental hygienists.