Dental Hygienist FAQs

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Are dental hygienists in high demand?

Dental hygienists are in high demand across the United States and Canada, and currently, there is a shortage of hygienists to fill the demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the demand for dental hygienists will grow by 6% between 2019 and 2029. The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $77,090 ($37.06 per hour) in May 2020. DentalPost has published the latest average salary by state here.
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View dental hygienist job description and qualifications.

What do dental hygienists like about their job?

Dental hygienists enjoy helping patients lead healthier lives, working part-time at different stages of their life, earning a good income with an associate’s degree, and continuing their education and advancing their careers. If dental hygienists find themselves in an overly stressful working environment and want to change, there are plentiful opportunities to do so.

What do dental hygienists do?

Teeth brushing and flossing at home are not enough to prevent harmful bacterial plaque from building up on teeth over a few months. When this plaque is not regularly removed, dental decay and gum inflammation can develop into serious oral health problems, including acute pain and tooth loss. Dental hygienists are trained dental professionals who remove not only dental plaque and tartar in a clinical setting but also polish teeth, examine the mouth for signs of problems, communicate these signs to the dentist to evaluate oral conditions further, and educate patients about the best ways to manage their oral health.  Dental hygienists often make radiographic images, apply topical fluoride, explain tooth whitening options, and perform below the gumline root planing and scaling. By performing their duties, dental hygienists minimize dental and gum disease and free up time for dentists so dentists can devote their time to higher-level diagnosis and restorative dental treatment.
View dental hygienist job description and qualifications.

Are dental assistants and dental hygienists the same?

Dental assistants and dental hygienists have different duties within a dental practice, educational requirements, and licensing. Dental assistants assist dentists while dentists are preparing to perform and performing dental procedures. Dental assistants also perform limited procedures such as taking blood pressure, taking x-rays and photos, and making impressions. Hygienists complete a higher level of training and are licensed to clean and polish teeth, examine teeth and gums, collect information about the patient’s oral and medical health history, and chart oral health conditions for the dentist to analyze. They train to administer local anesthetics, remove sutures and dressings, apply preventive treatments such as fluoride and sealants, and do deep cleaning (root planing and scaling).
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View dental hygienist job responsibilities.

How do I become a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists are required to have an associate degree in dental hygiene and state licensure. Those who want to advance in their career can do a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in dental hygiene. Start the process by enrolling in an accredited associate degree or bachelor’s degree program in dental hygiene. State licensure will involve passing a written national examination and a state clinical examination.

Where can I study to be a dental hygienist?

Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Dental hygienists must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program and complete a written national board examination and a regional or state clinical board examination. The minimum level of education degree for a dental hygienist is an associate degree, though bachelor and master degrees are also options for those who want to advance their career. The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) website has a downloadable list of educational programs for associate, bachelor, and master degrees in dental hygiene, including in-classroom and online distance programs. The American Dental Education Associate (ADEA) search function provides individual dental hygiene program profiles and access to their application instructions.
Learn more about dental hygiene programs.

How long is dental hygiene school?

Completing an associate degree in dental hygiene usually takes two years, and completing a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene usually takes four years. If you are a part-time student, it will take longer to complete the educational requirements of the associate or bachelor’s degree.
Learn more about dental hygiene programs.

What is a dental hygienist course of study?

A student in a dental hygiene program takes introductory science courses such as biology, anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, pathology, and physiology. They take liberal arts courses such as English, speech, sociology, and psychology. Additionally, they take courses specific to dental hygiene, such as pharmacology, immunology, radiology (to take dental X-rays), dental hygiene, and dental materials. As part of their program, they practice oral examination, teeth cleaning, flossing, and other dental hygiene procedures on manikins and live patients who have volunteered to be treated by supervised student trainees in exchange for free dental care.
Learn more about dental hygiene programs.

Do dental hygienists need a license?

Yes, professional licensure helps protect the public from unqualified individuals and unsafe practices. Upon completing an associate or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, dental hygienists pass a written national examination and a state clinical examination in the state they apply for a license to practice.  When they move to a new state, they need to apply for a license there, but depending on the state, they may not need to complete their professional examinations over again.  
Get certified to become a dental hygienist.

How do dental hygienists keep their licenses active?

Depending on the state, licenses must be renewed every 1, 2, or 3 years with proof of a minimum number of continuing education credits from an American Dental Hygienist Association (ADHA) approved course provider. Each state has requirements and reporting criteria.

What does RDH mean?

RDH stands for Registered Dental Hygienist. Once you have become licensed in a state, you are registered in that state and can apply RDH at the end of your name. To become licensed, you will complete an associate or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, pass a written national examination, and pass a state clinical examination.

Are dental hygienists paid more than dental assistants?

Yes, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the national median salary for dental hygienists in 2020 was $77,090. The national median salary for dental assistants was $41,170.

What is a dental hygienist’s salary?

The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $77,090 ($37.06 per hour) in May 2020. DentalPost has published the latest average salary by state here. In comparison, the median wage of all U.S. occupations in 2020 was $41,950, meaning 50% of all employed workers earned less and 50% earned more than $41,950.
View dental hygienist’s salary statistics by state.

Can dental hygienists do Botox?

Licensed medical professionals, including doctors, dentists, nurses, and physician assistants, may become certified to administer facial injections. A registered dental hygienist (RDH) may become certified to administer facial injections in certain states. Check the current regulations of your state.

Can dental hygienists have nails?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says, “fingernails should be kept short and smooth. The edges should be filed smooth to allow thorough cleaning and prevent glove tears.” Keeping natural nails trimmed and groomed is essential because most microorganisms on the hands are found under and around the fingernails, and sharp nail edges or long nails are likely to interfere with glove fit and integrity. Your state dental board may have state regulations that enforce this.

Can dental hygienists have tattoos?

Some employers enforce a no visible tattoo policy because they do not want to offend the conservative population of the dental practice. They have a legal right to do this. More dental hygienists with tattoos are employed than were in the past. Read 10 helpful tips for job seekers.

Is a dental hygienist a doctor?

Dental hygienists are not doctors. However, both dental hygienists and dentists are licensed dental professionals. Both require specialized training beyond the introductory college coursework, with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree requiring far more education, knowledge, and skills than a registered dental hygienist (RDH). The oral health care procedures each can perform are regulated by each state’s Board of Dental Examiners. Some states permit dental hygienists to independently provide direct patient care without the supervision of a dentist. Most states require some form of supervision from a dentist. In the states where dental hygienists are permitted to work independently, many provide mobile care in schools, universities, corporate locations, patient homes, and long-term care facilities.
Learn more about the education and training required to become a dentist.
Learn more about the education and training required to become a dental hygienist.

Can dental hygienists become dentists?

Yes, and many do. For a dental hygienist to become a dentist, you need to complete dental school to achieve a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Then, you need to take the licensing exam in your state before you begin practicing. Most dental schools require that applicants already have a bachelor’s degree and take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) before admission. Some universities have programs that allow students to complete a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene while working toward a doctorate in dentistry.
Learn more about the education and training required to become a dentist.

Can a dental hygienist work independently without a dentist?

Some states permit dental hygienists to independently provide direct patient care without the supervision of a dentist. Most states require some form of supervision from a dentist. In the states where dental hygienists are permitted to work independently, many provide mobile care in schools, universities, corporate locations, patient homes, and long-term care facilities. 

Can dental hygienists diagnose and treat gum disease?

In most states, the diagnosis of disease conditions remains under the strict purview of a supervising dentist. In most states, specific treatment procedures In most states, the diagnosis of disease conditions remains under the strict purview of a supervising dentist. In most states, a dental hygienist can perform specific treatment procedures after authorization by the supervising dentist and only while the dentist is present in the office.

Can dental hygienists do fillings?

Each state enacts its own laws determining the services. Each state passes its own laws determining the services dental hygienists can perform. In some states, dental hygienists may qualify for a restorative certificate that allows them to do some types of fillings. In most of these states, a dentist must be present when restorative services are performed. The dentist prepares the tooth for restoration. The dental hygienist then places and finishes the restorative material.

Do dental hygienists need malpractice insurance?

Dental hygienists might not be required to have malpractice insurance in your state, but this doesn’t mean you won’t be at risk. The National Practitioner Data Bank reports malpractice claims against dental hygienists. Reasons vary, for example, failure to thoroughly document the patient’s record and physical injury to a patient. Dental hygienists can best avoid malpractice claims by closely following the ADHA Standards for Clinical Dental Hygiene Practice and being familiar with the scope of practice in the state they practice. If you don’t have malpractice insurance and are depending on your employer’s malpractice insurance, look at the terms of coverage.

How do dental hygienists clean teeth?

The teeth cleaning routine most dental hygienists follow takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes. A mirror helps examine the inside of the mouth for oral health problems such as inflamed gum tissue, plaque and tartar buildup, and dark spots resulting from dental decay or staining. On an annual basis, the gum tissue is also probed to measure the depth of gum pockets. Dental probing may be done at every dental cleaning appointment to measure gum health improvement or decline. Observed problems are communicated to the dentist for further evaluation. Using a manual scaling instrument or an ultrasonic scaler, the hygienist removes plaque and tartar from the surface of each tooth to the gum line, including between teeth. Then, the hygienist polishes the teeth using a handheld electric instrument with a rubber prophy cup attachment and gritty toothpaste. The hygienist flosses the teeth and may offer topical fluoride treatment to restore tooth enamel and lower the risk of bacterial tooth decay. Dental hygiene visits should be repeated every six months and sometimes more often when indicated by the patient’s oral health.

Who was the first dental hygienist?

In 1907, a Connecticut dentist named Alfred Fones trained Irene Newman to perform dental cleanings on his patients. Irene Newman was the first “dental hygienist” to implement dental hygiene duties in a clinical setting. Dr. Fones established America’s first dental hygiene program in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1913.

Do dental hygienists get benefits?

Some employers provide health insurance, dental treatment at a reduced cost, life and disability insurance, malpractice insurance, and retirement plans. An employer may provide some but not all of these traditional employee benefits. Dental service organizations (DSOs) with many employees offer the most robust employee benefits packages.
View average full-time dental hygienist salary and benefits.  

Do dental hygienists wear scrubs?

A 2018 survey by the American Dental Association (ADA) found that 66% of dental practices require staff members to wear scrubs for work. Another 31% had some other version of a practice-specific dress code. The majority of respondents said requiring scrubs simplifies things for staff, helps prevent inappropriate dress, promotes team unity, and promotes the brand imaging of the practice. 

Do dental hygienists make more than nurses?

The average salary is comparable for dental hygienists and registered nurses (RNs). Both will vary based on location, advanced education, and experience. RNs typically receive fuller benefits packages, so a career in nursing is likely to be higher compensated. The average salary is comparable for dental hygienists and registered nurses (RNs). Both will vary based on location, advanced education, and experience. RNs typically receive fuller benefits packages, so a career in nursing is likely to be higher compensated. The average salary is comparable for dental hygienists and registered nurses (RNs). Both will vary based on location, advanced education, and experience. RNs typically receive fuller benefits packages, so a career in nursing is likely to be higher compensated.

Do dental hygienists get drug tested?

State laws on drug testing vary. Depending on state regulations, a dental hygienist might be drug tested before hiring or if the employer suspects the employee has symptoms of drug or alcohol use that could or has interfered with performance or could or has caused harm to others. In some states, a documented drug-free workplace can do periodic or random drug testing.

Does “dental hygienist” need to be capitalized?

When the job title “Dental Hygienist” is used in a heading, it should be capitalized. The job title “dental hygienist” should be in all lower case in the text of a job description or sentences referring to dental hygienists as a category of dental professionals. When used at the beginning of a sentence, use this capitalization: “Dental hygienist.”

Do orthodontists hire dental hygienists?

Most orthodontists refer their patients back to the patient’s general dentist for dental cleanings. Some orthodontic practices hire hygienists who develop experience cleaning teeth with bonded brackets, educating orthodontic patients in the greater complexity of their oral hygiene, removing brackets, and cleaning teeth when orthodontic brackets are removed.

Do periodontists hire dental hygienists?

Yes, many periodontists hire dental hygienists. These hygienists perform the same duties as hygienists who work in a general dental practice. They remove plaque, clean and polish teeth, apply decay preventive, topical fluoride and sealants, chart medical and dental histories, and take dental x-rays. They observe oral health conditions of the teeth and gum tissue for the dental specialist to examine but do not diagnose disease. Under the specialist’s supervision, they can perform a deep cleaning (root planing and scaling).

Can dental hygienists work a flexible schedule?

Yes, dental hygienists enjoy flexible schedules, with more than half of them working part-time and still earning above-average salaries.

When do dental hygienists get paid?

Dental hygienists are usually employed as nonexempt employees, paid hourly for all hours worked. Almost every state has pay frequency laws. The only states with specific pay frequency laws are Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. Many states require a weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, or monthly payroll, the minimum frequency for paying employees. Employers are permitted to pay more frequently. A dental hygienist’s typical pay period is biweekly (every two weeks).

When is Dental Hygienist Week?

In the U.S. and Canada, the entire second week of April is National Dental Hygienists Week, a time to recognize and appreciate dental hygienists. View the calendar of the National Dental Holidays.

Where do dental hygienists work?

Most dental hygienists provide direct patient dental hygiene care in clinical settings in the exact location of one or more dentists, dental assistants, and administrative support team members. These settings vary; they may be private dental practices, dental practices owned by corporations, military and VA dental clinics, public health clinics, dental school clinics, and hospital residency clinics. Some dental hygienists have differentiated their careers through education and experience to become dental office administrators in dental clinics. Others have differentiated their careers by becoming educators, consultants, researchers, and dental sales/service representatives and managers, working in various settings as independent contractors, entrepreneur business owners, corporate employees, government employees, or academic employees.

Do dental hygienists do patient education?

Yes, one of the primary roles of a dental hygienist in any dental practice is educating patients about the importance of oral hygiene and regular hygiene appointments. Dental hygienists frequently answer patient questions regarding changes in the patient’s periodontal charting and the occurrence of gum bleeding. Hygienists often help patients understand why the dentist has recommended treatment and the benefits gained from treatment.

Do dental hygienists whiten teeth?

In the U.S., dental hygienists with the proper training and under the supervision of a dentist can perform procedures that whiten teeth. During hygiene appointments, patients frequently ask about tooth whitening, so dental hygienists are on the front line of educating patients about whitening procedures recommended by their dentist.

Can dental hygienists administer local anesthesia?

Each state enacts its own laws determining the services dental hygienists can perform, the settings they can practice, and the supervision under which they practice.  For example, a Florida licensed dental hygienist, under the direct supervision of a dentist, may administer local anesthesia to a non-sedated patient who is 18 years of age or older. To do this, Florida dental hygienists must complete a course in administering local anesthesia offered by a dental or dental hygiene program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association. The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) lists permissible duties for licensed dental hygienists by state.

Are there alternative careers for dental hygienists?

Clinical practice (or strictly clinical practice) in a single setting may not be for every dental hygienist at different stages of life. Your knowledge and experience can be leveraged in new ways, like becoming a dental sales rep or going into marketing. Maybe you want to move into a front-office role or become a patient coordinator. Depending on what your state allows, you may be able to branch off into community public health, provide hygiene services and education in schools, work in access to care clinics, and/or provide mobile services to elderly patients. Teaching in dental hygiene programs may be suited to you if you have a bachelor’s degree, or better yet, a master’s degree in dental hygiene or public health. You might work as a clinical trainer or educator for a dental company or develop and lead an educational program for dental hygienists in a large DSO. You might even become a successful hygiene coach, speaker, and author. Look about for role models and ask them how they got to where they are.

Should dental hygienists get the COVID vaccine?

Dental hygienists were permitted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine during Phase 1 of vaccination. Those returning to work during the pandemic can be vaccinated now if they have not already been. Because dental hygienists are at increased risk of exposure to aerosol particles, it is recommended that they be vaccinated unless their medical doctor has advised otherwise due to particular medical conditions. Go to the ADA COVID-19 vaccination update for dental employees here.

Should dental hygienists wear N95 masks?

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved N95 face masks are recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic because alternatives do not or may not provide as much protection, particularly against small particle aerosols. During the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA recommends all dental team members wear N95 face masks, and when considering N95 alternatives, check to ensure that they are NIOSH-approved

Are there dental hygienists in the military?

Yes, each branch of the U.S. military service has employment opportunities for dental hygienists. You can seek employment as a civilian, contracted employee, or active-duty service member to work on a military base or deployment. Service locations are found all over the U.S. and around the world. Training programs to become a dental hygienist are available for active-duty service members in a few locations. If you are a licensed dental hygienist, search for military dental hygienist jobs on online job boards. If you would like to complete educational requirements to be a dental hygienist while serving in the military, speak to a military career counselor or recruiter and ask for a realistic assessment of current opportunities to do this.

Should dental hygienists get disability insurance?

Achieving licensure as a dental hygienist represents a lot of education and dedication to the career. Dental hygienists are at high risk of developing neck, back, shoulder, wrist, and hand pain. In a 2002 research study of 95 dental hygienists, 93% reported at least one Musculoskeletal disorder in the past year, particularly in the wrist and hand, the neck, and the upper back. At least one survey has found that dental hygienists had the highest rates of carpal tunnel syndrome of all occupations. Many dental hygienists who cannot perform clinical hygiene due to injury or health conditions often alter their career paths to maintain a stream of income. A disability insurance policy that contains a “true own occupation” rider defines that you will be considered totally disabled if you cannot do your occupation even if you can perform another occupation. This type of policy could benefit dental hygienists because they can work in a new career and supplement their income indefinitely from the disability insurance.