Girl awaits her root canal in fear

What is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a medical professional who specializes in treating and preventing oral diseases such as gingivitis, tooth decay, and tooth infections. Most hygienists work with dentists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons in their offices while others have practices of their own. These healthcare professionals perform a variety of tasks, such as cleaning teeth, administering fluoride when needed, and performing standard dental exams, which are often supplemented by exams performed by the dentists themselves.

Dental hygienists also administer local anesthesia during minor surgeries, such as filling cavities. They can also be qualified to perform dental radiology, and at orthodontic clinics, they will also make impressions of teeth for mouth guards, size up your teeth for a pair of braces, and remove the braces when your teeth are straightened. Finally, dental hygienists are trained to educate all of their patients on taking care of their teeth no matter what your individual situation is.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

To become a dental hygienist in the United States, you must have at least an associate degree from a dental hygienist school that's accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). The US has over 200 separate programs, and many of them can be found at major universities. These schools offer specialized lessons in nutrition, oral anatomy, oral radiography, and other related courses. You'll also need to take more general lessons in subjects such as algebra and biology, which play a major role in this occupation. Upon graduation, you will have to be registered in the state where you plan to practice dental hygiene. The requirements are different for each state, but they usually require an associate degree, a successful written exam, and a successful clinical exam. Both exams are administered by a state licensing board.

What is the Average Salary?

Although the pay varies from place to place, the average salary for a dental hygienist is $70,210 a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is a much higher salary than can be found in other similar positions. Some hygienists can actually earn as much as $95,000 a year in certain parts of the country. In addition, many hygienists will receive benefits such as paid vacation time, paid or unpaid medical leave, and matching pension contributions, but not all employers offer them.