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Career Advice

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

dentalFancy a career that you can really get your teeth into?  Have a particular interest in oral hygiene or ‘mouth maintenance’ ?  Then this just might be the post for you!  You may not be 100% sure about what a dental hygienist (also known as an oral health practitioner) actually does. However, to put it simply, a dental hygienist is a healthcare professional who is concerned with the avoidance of oral health problems.  They differ from dentists in the sense that their work is preventative rather than curative. Incidentally if you would like to find out how to become a dentist you can find the information you need here.

Work Activities

As a dental hygienist you will most likely work in an NHS, private or mixed dental practice.  However there is great opportunity for specialisation and development which could see you plying your trade in University Dental Schools, the armed forces or within commercial organisations.  Some of the things that you could be doing on a daily basis include:

  • Assessing the oral health of patients including tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer etc.

  • The scaling and polishing of teeth in order to remove plaque

  • Providing information on correct dental hygiene procedures to patients

  • Carrying out procedures to monitor oral health

  • Taking impressions of teeth

  • Carrying-out dental radiographs (X Rays)

  • Extracting dead teeth

  • Treating and undertaking procedures to prevent gum disease

  • Working closely with dentists and dental nurses

  • Some general administrative duties such as diary management and maintaining patient records

As your career progresses and you become more experienced, you will have the opportunity to take on more responsibilities within your practice and may choose to become a practice manager or to teach within a dental school.

Qualifications (UK)

In order to be considered a fully qualified dental hygienist you will need to complete a Dental Hygiene and Therapy Diploma course which has been approved by the General Dental Council (GDC). These courses will usually be carried out at a university dental school and in order to gain access onto such a course you will usually need five GCSE’s (A-C) or equivalent, 2 A levels or a recognised dental nursing qualification. The diploma course will normally last around 27 months on a full time basis and consist of a mixture of practical and academic study.  Core subjects will normally include:

  • Behavioural science and communication

  • Human anatomy and physiology

  • Pathology

  • Pediatric dentistry

  • Dental radiography

  • Principles of health promotion and disease prevention

  • The care and maintenance of oral appliances and devices

There are 20 educational institutions in the uk which offer dental hygienist training a full list of which can be found here .

Skills and Attributes

dentistIt goes without saying that in order to make a great dental hygienist you need to have a real and demonstrable interest in oral hygiene and dental care in general, but some other skills which you should consider are:

  • An interest in and a good knowledge of science, anatomy and physiology

  • Great manual dexterity – Dental hygienists are required to carry out extremely delicate work so a steady hand and accuracy are key

  • Outstanding levels of verbal communication. As a dental hygienist it will be your responsibility to encourage and motivate your patients to implement improved oral hygiene practices

  • A friendly disposition and good interpersonal skills – just as many people dread going to the dentist, so too do some have a genuine fear of visiting a dental hygienist. As such you must be able to put your patients at ease and ensure that they are as comfortable as possible

  • A confident and self assured approach to work

  • Excellent skills of organisation

  • The ability to concentrate effectively for long periods of time

  • Good IT and general administrative skills

  • The ability and desire to work well as a member of a team

  • The ability to make decisions quickly and considerately

The road to becoming a dental hygienist is by no means an easy one, and as a career it can prove to be challenging and very demanding.  However, for some it offers outstanding opportunities for career progression and the opportunity to work in a unique environment using a large range of skills.

Still fancy a career as a dental hygienist?  Best of luck, we hope that you have found this quick guide useful!

Why not take a look at out career directory where we are sure you will find the career that is right for you.


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