What does a dental hygienist do?

Dental hygienists provide education and clinical services to promote optimal oral health. They provide treatment to help prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health problems. While they most typically work in private dental offices and clinics, dental hygienists also may find employment in health departments, hospitals, nursing homes, school districts, corporate settings, military services, correctional facilities, or dental education facilities. This flexible career allows hygienists to choose to work anywhere from one to five days per week.

What might a dental hygienist do in a workday?

  • patient screening procedures, such as review of the health history, dental charting, and taking blood pressure, pulse, and temperature.
  • administering local anesthesia and nitrous oxide.
  • making and developing dental radiographs (X-rays).
  • removing calculus and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from the teeth.
  • applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g. fluoride and sealants).
  • teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene techniques to maintain and improve oral health.
  • counseling patients regarding good nutrition and its impact on oral health.
  • counseling patients regarding the link of oral health to serious systematic health problems.
  • performing office management duties.
  • performing oral cancer screenings.
  • performing screenings and hygiene examinations for the public.

How much does a dental hygienist earn?

  • $55,220 - $78,990

How do I become a dental hygienist?

Students intending to pursue a career as a dental hygienist should prepare by taking challenging science, math, pharmacology, and nutrition courses. Dental hygienists receive their education through accredited academic programs at community colleges or universities. The majority of community college programs take two years to complete but require prerequisites for entry into the program*, with graduates receiving associate degrees. An associate degree allows the hygienist to become eligible for a state and national licensure examination. University based dental hygiene programs may offer bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees, each requiring at least two additional years of schooling. These advanced degrees are required for careers in teaching, research, and public health programs.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, dental hygienists must obtain a license from the Board of Dentistry. In order to receive this license, applicants must be graduates of an accredited dental hygiene program, pass the dental hygiene examination given by the Joint Commission on Dental Examinations, and pass a clinical examination. License renewal is granted annually upon completion of required continuing education.

*The average associate program requires 88 credit hours for graduation/degree.

Where else can I learn about becoming a dental hygienist

Virginia Dental Hygienists’ Association
tel:  (888) RDH-VDHA • (888) 734-8342 / web:  www.vdha.net

American Dental Hygienists’ Association
444 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 3400 / Chicago, IL 60611
tel:  (312) 440-8900 / web: www.adha.org

State License Requirements for Dental Hygienists:

A license is required to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia. For more information on licensure, applications and forms, visit www.dhp.virginia.gov/dentistry.

Virginia Board of Dentistry
Perimeter Center
9960 Mayland Drive, Suite 300 / Henrico, VA 23233-1463
tel:  (804) 367-4538 / Email: denbd@dhp.virginia.gov

Educational Institutions in Virginia for Dental Hygiene: