Dental hygienists are an important part of the dental team, preventing dental problems in adults and children. As a dental hygienist, you'll help children and adults look after their teeth and gums. Sometimes you might be working on a one-to-one basis while on occasion you'll work with groups of people.
The work of a dental hygienist
Dental hygienists carry out procedures such as:
- scaling teeth (at times under local anaesthetic)
- polishing teeth
- applying topical fluoride and fissure sealants
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.
Hygienists can also gain additional skills to allow them to provide tooth whitening (under prescription of a dentist).
To practise as a dental hygienist, you need to take a course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC) and then need to register with the GDC.
Subjects studied include:
- preventive dentistry
- dental health education
- dental pathology
- the management and care of patients
Many training establishments offer a combined course in dental hygiene and therapy leading to a combined diploma.
The course lasts for around three years.
Some combined courses allow students who can't meet the criteria for the full combined diploma, to take the diploma in dental hygiene or certificate in oral health studies instead.
Some training establishments continue to offer the diploma in dental hygiene course, with no training in dental therapy.
A list of training centres and contact details can be found on the British Association of Dental Hygiene and Therapy website.
Most dental hygienists work in general dental practices but you can also find them in hospitals and in Community Dental Services.
Many dental hygienists lead teams of oral health educators.
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 Dental Services, you could work with people with a wide range of special or additional needs.
If you're based in a hospital, you'll help patients who may have had major surgery or complicated orthodontic treatment or have particular medical conditions.