Dental Hygienist

The Job and What's Involved

Dental hygienists help their patients to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. They do this by performing a range of dental work for patients, including teaching them the skills needed to maintain their own oral hygiene.

Patients are first seen by a dentist, who decides what work is to be done by a dental hygienist.

This can include:

  • Scaling and polishing teeth.
  • Applying coatings to teeth, such as fluoride and sealants, to help prevent decay.
  • Taking dental X-rays.
  • Giving local anaesthetic.
  • Undertaking temporary fillings.
  • Replacing crowns with temporary cement in an emergency.
  • Taking impressions of teeth and gums for crowns, bridges and dentures.

Dental hygienists use a range of dental instruments. They may be assisted by a dental nurse.

Dental hygienists have an important role in teaching people how to care for their teeth, gums and mouths. This can involve:

Teaching people about the importance of brushing and flossing, and demonstrating the most effective way to do this.

Advising on diet, stopping smoking and other health issues, either on a one-to-one basis or by making presentations to groups, such as schoolchildren or older people.

Dental hygienists in hospitals also help patients to keep their mouths healthy if they are having surgery or complicated orthodontic treatment, or if they are suffering from particular medical conditions.

Their work has some similarities to the work of dental therapists who carry out a wider range of clinical treatment, such as extracting deciduous (or milk) teeth and undertaking simple fillings.

Dental hygienists generally work seven or eight hours a day, but in general dental practice, working hours may include evenings and Saturday mornings. Part-time work is possible.

Dental hygienists working in community dental services may travel to see patients in schools, community centres, residential homes or in their own homes. They may also work in a mobile clinic.

Dental surgeries are warm, well lit and clean. Hygienists may wear a white coat or tunic and surgical gloves and, for certain procedures, a face mask and eye protection.

A newly qualified dental hygienist in a National Health Service (NHS) practice may earn from £25,000. Dental hygienists with several years' experience may earn between £26,483 and £29,464 a year in an NHS practice.

In a private practice, self-employed hygienists may earn between £33,000 and £48,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Dental hygienists are employed by:

  • General dental practices.
  • Community dental services that give dental treatment to people who cannot attend a general practice.
  • Hospitals.
  • Private companies that provide dental care to employees.
  • Defence Dental Services, providing dental care to the British armed forces throughout the world.

Most dental hygienists work in general dental practices. Some are self-employed and work at several dental practices.

The number of dental hygienists is increasing and there are more than 5,000 in the UK.

Vacancies are advertised in Dental Health, the Journal of the British Society of Dental Hygiene & Therapy (BSDHT), in its newsletter DH Contact and on the internet, including the BSDHT website and the NHS jobs website.

Education and Training

Dental hygienists must register with the General Dental Council (GDC) before they can practise.

To qualify for registration, they must have a qualification that has been approved by the GDC, either a two-year, full-time diploma in dental hygiene and therapy or a three-year, full-time BSc degree in oral health science.

Both the degree and diploma courses involve a combination of study at college or university and clinical practice in the form of work placements. The courses cover topics such as:

- Care of patients
- Prevention of oral disease
- Anatomy and physiology
- Orthodontics
- Diet and nutrition
- Oral health promotion
- Dental radiography

Diploma or degree courses are offered by 13 dental schools in England, listed on the BSDHT website.

The entry requirements vary, so it is essential to check individual courses carefully, but they are usually five GCSE's (A*-C), including English and a biological science, and two A levels, preferably in science subjects.

People who have worked in a dental environment and obtained a dental nurse qualification have an advantage, and dental schools may accept a nationally recognised dental nursing qualification in place of A levels. Portsmouth University runs a part-time, 15-week foundation award course, aimed at dental nurses wishing to gain entry to the dental hygiene/dental therapy degree course without the required A level entry qualifications.

Some universities offer foundation degrees in subjects such as science and dental therapy or oral health science that can prepare students for entry to the degree course. Entry requirements vary, so applicants should check with universities.

All entrants to dental hygiene training have their backgrounds checked by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) to make sure that they are suitable to work with children and vulnerable adults.

Income-assessed NHS bursaries may be available to students on approved courses. Contact course admission tutors for further information.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most dental hygiene training is combined with dental therapy training. People completing combined training are therefore qualified both as a dental hygienist and a dental therapist.

After registration, dental hygienists are expected to keep their skills and knowledge up to date through continuing professional development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dental hygienist should:

  • Be good at science.
  • Be able to do close, detailed work using a range of precision instruments.
  • Get on well with a wide range of people of all ages.
  • Have excellent communication skills to explain treatments and instruct patients on dental hygiene.
  • Have good motivational skills to encourage patients to persevere with recommended cleaning techniques and diet changes.
  • Be able to concentrate for long periods of time.
  • Have a calm and reassuring manner.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Be interested in health care.

Your Long Term Prospects

Some experienced dental hygienists progress to become practice managers. Some become orthodontic therapists. There are also opportunities to teach on dental hygiene training courses.

There may be some opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

British Dental Association (BDA),
64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS
Tel: 020 7935 0875
Website: www.bda.org

British Society of Dental Hygiene & Therapy (BSDHT),
3 Kestrel Court, Waterwells Drive,
Waterwells Business Park, Gloucester GL2 2AT
Tel: 01452 886365
Website: www.bsdht.org.uk

The General Dental Council,
37 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 0845 222 4141
Website: www.gdc-uk.org

NHS Careers
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk www.jobs.nhs.uk and www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk

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