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. 
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Are dental assistants and dental hygienists the same?

Dental assistants assist dentists chairside during procedures, sanitize instruments and equipment, and update patient records. 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 examine. They are trained 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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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 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.

Do dental hygienists need a license?

Yes, professional licensure helps protect the public from unqualified individuals and unsafe practice. Upon completion of 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.  
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How do dental hygienists keep their license active?

Depending on the state, the license 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 its own 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.

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 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 that they take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) prior to admission. Some universities have programs that allow students to complete a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene while working toward a doctorate in dentistry. 

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, certain treatment procedures In most states, the diagnosis of disease conditions remains under the strict purview of a supervising dentist. In most states, certain treatment procedures can be performed by a dental hygienist 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 enacts 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, and then the dental hygienist places and finishes the restorative material.

Who was the first dental hygienist?

In 1907, a Connecticut dentist, named Alfred Fones, trained Irene Newman 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 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.
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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 prior to 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 is permitted to 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 in 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 at the time that orthodontic brackets are removed.

Do periodontists hire dental hygienists?

Yes, many periodontists hire dental hygienists. These hygienists perform the same duties as hygienists who Yes, many periodontists hire dental hygienists. These hygienists perform the same duties as hygienists who work in a general dental practice. They remove plaque and 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 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.

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 that will be gained from treatment.

Do dental hygienists whiten teeth?

In the U.S., dental hygienists with the proper training, and under 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.

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. Perhaps, you want to go into dental sales or marketing. Maybe you want to 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. 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. Perhaps, you want to become a dental sales rep or go 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.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. Perhaps, you want to go into dental sales or marketing. Maybe you want to 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.