Dental hygienist

Dental hygienists have a vital role in helping to prevent dental problems from arising.

Working life

As a dental hygienist, you will show children and adults how to look after their teeth and gums. This can be on an individual basis or in groups.

Dental hygienists carry out procedures such as:

  • scaling teeth (at times under local anaesthetic)

  • polishing teeth

  • applying topical fluoride and fissure sealants

They work in hospitals and in community dental services, but most frequently in general dental practice. Many dental hygienists lead teams of oral health educators.

Your work as a dental hygienist will save teeth by preventing and treating gum disease, helping people get rid of associated problems like bad breath. The dentist will usually advise you and help direct your work, although it’s now possible for hygienists and therapists who have extra training to set up their own practices or work independently in a dental practice so they can see patients without them seeing a dentist first.

In the community, you could work with people with a wide range of special or additional needs.

If you are based in a hospital, you will help patients who may have had major surgery or complicated orthodontic treatment or have particular medical conditions. The hospital patients you see may be very ill, apprehensive or unsure after life-changing surgery.

Entry requirements, skills and interests

To be a dental hygienist you will need five GCSE subjects graded A – C or equivalent, plus two A levels or a recognised dental nursing qualification.

Good people and communication skills are very important and, given that you might work in different settings, you will probably be the kind of person who enjoys a job with plenty of variety.

Training and development

To practise as a dental hygienist, you need to take an appropriate course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC). You will then need to register with the GDC.

The course is offered by dental schools and usually takes two years or up to 27 months full-time.

Subjects studied include:

  • anatomy and physiology
  • preventive dentistry
  • dental health education
  • dental pathology
  • the management and care of patients

Several dental schools offer courses combining dental hygiene and dental therapy.

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