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What is a Dental Hygienist?
Dental hygiene is the area of education and practice that deals with the proper care and maintenance of one's oral cavity, including the gums and teeth. Individuals in this field are referred to as dental hygienists, and responsible for cleaning the oral cavity as well as identifying any ailments or disease that may be present. Additionally, dental hygienists provide education in the proper care and treatment of one's mouth in order to continue cleanliness at home.
Individuals interested in studying dental hygiene will typically earn a certificate or associates degree through a program that takes between one and two years to complete. This is the minimum requirement for most dental offices. Bachelor and master degrees are less common, though available, and are typically required for research positions, teaching positions, or for employment in certain programs or public schools.
A curriculum may include:
- Oral Communication
- Tooth Morphology
- Head and Neck Anatomy
Dental hygienists are typically employed in dental offices and work alongside dentists and dental assistants. They provide care and treatment for patients during routine cleanings. Hygienists must wear protective gear when working on patients or clients, and when working may have to spend extensive amounts of time on their feet. Many dental hygienists work part time, coming in for specific appointments. Some hygienists may work at multiple dental offices in order to maximize earnings. Employment for specialized programs or for research will be more competitive and difficult than those typically available at a dental office.
Job Growth, Salary and Related Fields
Job growth is expected to increase rapidly over the next decade as healthcare becomes more widely available and the need to maintain healthy teeth becomes more widespread. This combined with the growing amount of information that connects oral health to overall health means that hygienists will be in high demand. The average salary for dental hygienists is $68,000 annually, and is increased based on experience, education, location and hours worked.
Individuals interested in dental hygiene may also consider careers in dental assisting or dental laboratory technology.
For additional information on a future in the dentistry field, read our comprehensive career guide on our blog which includes job duties, common treatments, educational requirements, dental specialties, and job outlook information for dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental lab technicians.