Sheila Opsal

A Career as a Dental Hygienist

Career Goal - Dental Hygienist

Career Overview

Dental hygienists clean teeth and teach clients how to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

The primary goal of dental hygiene is preventative care. Dental hygienists discuss general health issues with patients and update dental charts. They inspect patients' teeth for deposits and decay, and look for any shrinkage or disease in the gums. They look to see if the gums and lymph nodes under the chin show any swelling or other signs of cancer. When x-rays need updating, or when there are new patients, hygienists take x-rays. They take great care to position the camera at different angles around the head and mouth. They also develop film for dentists to use as they diagnose problems and plan treatments.

Hygienists use dental instruments to clean plaque and various stains from teeth, in preparation for the dentist. Part of that preparation may include applying numbing agents to a patient's gums. They do this so the dentist may administer an injection with the least amount of discomfort to the client. Some hygienists are licensed to administer local anesthesia. Hygienists also apply fluoride to children's teeth.

Finally, dental hygienists perform finish work on certain procedures so the dentist can go on to the next patient. Examples include cleanings, scalings, applying sealants, and root plantings. They report what work they do to the dentist, including any other concerns they may find. They counsel clients about dental health. They may teach dental health education for school children and other members of the community.

Career Skills and Interests

Listen to others, understand, and ask questions.Express ideas clearly when speaking or writing.Read and understand written materials.

Understand new information or materials by studying and working with them.Analyze ideas and use logic to determine their strengths and weaknesses.Notice when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong.Judge the costs and benefits of a possible action.Combine several pieces of information and draw conclusions.Use reasoning to discover answers to problems.Concentrate and not be distracted while performing a task.Follow guidelines to arrange objects or actions in a certain order.

Manage the time of self and others.Check how well one is learning or doing something.

Career Working Conditions

Have a high level of social contact. They work closely with clients and coworkers.Are responsible for others' health and safety.Work as part of a dental team.Communicate with patients daily by telephone and in person.Write letters and memos on a weekly basis.May occasionally be placed in conflict situations in which others may be rude or unpleasant.Are responsible for the health and safety of others.

Always work indoors.Always wear protective attire. They wear masks, safety glasses, and rubber gloves to protect themselves and their clients from diseases.Are always exposed to diseases and infections from their contact with clients.Are often exposed to radiation, such as when x raying clients' teeth.Are sometimes exposed to contaminants.Work very near other people and have little space between self and others.Are often exposed to loud sounds and distracting noise levels.

Must fully complete and be exact in their work. Errors could seriously endanger the health of patients.Repeat the same tasks over and over, such as cleaning patients' teeth and applying fluoride.Can make most decisions and set most tasks without consulting a supervisor.Make decisions that have major effects on their patients.Always make decisions that affect the image of the dental office

May work full time or part time.May work days, evenings, or weekends.May work for more than one dental office.

Career Wages and Outlook

Hygienists may be paid by the client, day, or by the hour. Many hygienists work part time and some are paid a combination of salary and commission.

Hygienists' wages also depend on the hours they work and their responsibilities. Their level of education and the area of the country where they work also affect their wages.

Benefits vary by employer. Full-time hygienists may receive paid vacation, sick days, and health insurance. Part-time hygienists generally are paid a wage, but do not receive benefits.

Hourly Wage - $36.50

Salary Wage - $75,000

Career Related Occupations

The occupations listed below may have similar work duties, use similar skills, be in the same career ladder, have a similar level of education, or be related in another way.

  • Dentist
  • Dental Assistant

Program of Study - Dental Hygienist

Program Overview

Dental hygiene programs teach people to clean and protect patients' teeth. Students learn oral anatomy, hygiene theory, and cleaning techniques. They also study ways of identifying oral diseases and injuries. They learn how to instruct patients about flossing and caring for their teeth.

Program Admission

Many undergraduate programs require applicants to have taken one to two years of college first. Specific prerequisite courses vary among programs, but typically include some combination of the following:

• College Math
• Communication
• English Composition
• First Aid Training and CPR
• Human Anatomy
• Human Physiology
• Inorganic Chemistry
• Introductory Chemistry
• Introductory Psychology
• Microbiology
• Nutrition
• Organic Chemistry
• Social Sciences

Program Typical Course Work

Undergraduate programs that lead to an associate or bachelor's degree typically include courses in the following subjects:

•Cleaning Equipment Operation and Maintenance
•Dental Anatomy
•Dental Emergencies
•Dental Health
•Dental Hygiene Techniques
•Dental Microbiology
•Dental Pathology
•Oral Anatomy
•Oral Biology
•Oral Health Administration
•Oral Health Education
•Oral Pathology
•Oral Physiology
•Pain Control
•Patient Management

Related Programs

List the programs that are related to your program choice.

Schools that Offer my Program of Study

Minnesota State University

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

College Choice

Minnesota State University - Mankato

College Info

  • Size and Location - MSU, M is located in Mankato, Minnesota and there are about 13,650 undergraduate students that attend MSU, M.
  • Admission Requirements - List the Requirements
  • College Expenses - Tuition, Books and other fees - List your Expenses
  • Financial Aid - Grants and Scholarships - List possible Grants and Scholarships
  • Housing - Dorms or Apartments - List what is available
  • Activities - List some activities you could get involved in.

Informational Interview

Please include a Summary from your Informational Interview - See your Informational Interview Packet.

Plans to Reach Your Goal

Review the Gain Experiences Section that we cover and list Experiences that you could do to reach your Career Goals.