What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

DentalPost takes a look at the responsibilities and outlook of the Dental Hygienist career.

Who is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a person who has completed either a two or four-year degree or training program. Exact qualifications vary from state to state. They are trained to perform many dental procedures including cleanings, x-rays, and applying sealants. When you go to see your dentist for a routine cleaning the dental hygienist may be the one who performs the services instead of the dentist. They are empowered to provide these services within the scope of their license and state regulations.

Dental Hygienist and Assistant Teamwork

Both the hygienist and the assistant are involved in patient screening and often work together as team to ensure the patient experience is positive. A hygienist must be a team player and is an integral part of any dental office. Apart from the technical skills that you must master, you must also have excellent communication skills to be an ideal candidate for this position.

Becoming a registered dental hygienist, or RDH takes a few steps. The first step is to complete high school. Most programs have a minimum ACT and GPA requirement for applicants. Be sure to take classes in high school that will assist you like math, chemistry, and biology. The next step is to complete a dental hygiene degree program. Most states require an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. You can study part-time or full time, depending on your needs, with an accredited school to get your degree. After graduation, you will need to become licensed. All candidates must sit for the National Board of Dental Hygiene Examination and clinical board examinations for your state or region. Once you have been licensed you are officially a registered dental hygienist, though you will most definitely find yourself continuing your education throughout your career to update your skills or to pursue other career opportunities. 


As a dental hygienist you may find it important to improve your professional network. One way to do that is through organizations like the ADHA. It is the nation’s largest organization, representing over one hundred and eighty-five thousand registered dental hygienists. The organization seeks to fully integrate the role of dental hygienists into the dental practice and the healthcare system overall. 

For people thinking about working as a registered dental hygienist it would be helpful to set a job alert for job postings in your area. Another smart move is to join organizations for dental and medical workers. This will increase the size of your network and help you gain access to professional resources. It will also help alert you to positions opening up in your field in your area. This is where your soft skills can pay off in a very real way.


As a dental hygienist you will be called upon to comply with all local, state, and federal laws regarding healthcare. That includes HIPPA and ADA regulations. You should also be familiar with commonly used office software, like Dentrix and Microsoft Office. You should commit to maintaining a high quality standard of care and educating your patients on proper oral hygiene. Whether you work for a private dentist or a dental group you will be called upon to provide the necessary dental hygiene services that will maintain the health of your patients’ teeth. 

Work Culture

Believe it or not, it is possible to be a part time dental hygienist. Many people work part time while they pursue further studies in dental health. Others are job seekers, pursuing a full time position with a general dental office while building their resume. In the beginning, it can seem daunting, since you don’t have many years of experience to help you. However, internships and part time work can help to solve that problem for you. 

As a career, being a registered dental hygienist is a very secure and stable option. Some dental hygienists work full time, have paid time off, full benefits, and earn somewhere between thirty and forty-eight dollars an hour. While being a dental hygienist you may find yourself consulting with an Emergency Medical Technician or Licensed Nurse Practitioner about a patient and their overall health. As the profession of dental hygiene expands with a better understanding of the oral-systemic connections there will be more opportunities for collaboration with the medical community.

Dental hygiene is an exciting and quickly expanding profession. It’s the perfect way to combine a passion for helping people with a love of science.

Ready to begin?