A dental hygienist is an integral part of every successful dental practice. Dentists require their proficient expertise, as well as the additional skills they bring to the table. Or the patient chair in the case of the dentist room.
Working under the supervision of the dentist, you can find yourself carrying out a range of duties, such as administering anaesthetics, taking x-rays, providing teeth polishing treatments, but most of all, you’ll be calling on your communication skills to be an efficient part of the dental team.
It’s the job of a dental hygienist to (as obvious as it sounds) promote dental health. It’s why the jobs are sometimes advertised with a similar job title of an Oral Health Practitioner. To do that professionally, it takes more than being able to provide a tooth brushing demonstration lesson.
Dental hygienists require great inter-personal skills, and teaching skills to demonstrate to young children how to brush their teeth efficiently, and sometimes to adults too. A motivational attitude can go a long way in how you successfully contribute to helping people take better care of their teeth. Going beyond the brushing, there’s also flossing techniques you’ll be teaching to both young and older patients.
To understand the duties you’ll be doing, and to really embrace the academic studies you’ll be undertaking, it’s essential to have an active interest in science, anatomy, and physiology. Otherwise, you could very well find the topics going over your head, leading you to not completely understand a certain element of dentistry, and ultimately fail your exams. Not good!
Besides your proficient knowledge on preventative dentistry, you’ll also be required to put your skills into action in any working day to maintain a sterile environment for dental procedures to be carried out with care. Long periods of sometimes intense focus will be required, so if you consider yourself to be someone with a short attention span, you’ll probably find this is a field you’ll struggle in.
Being interested in how the mouth functions, what leads to gum diseases, the preventative measures to eradicate tooth decay, and ultimately promote great oral health is what you must have an interest in to pursue this career and become a success at it. Add to your treatment training, you’ll also need to know about healthy diet and nutrition information to advise patients on, preventative dentistry and plaque removal treatments and you have yourself some extensive training required to perform at your peak in this career.
As the right hand man or woman to a dentist, you’ll need to have an exceptional level of training. While your studies aren’t going to be as “academic”; as what’s required to become a dentist, it doesn’t make the training any less extensive. To become a registered dental hygienist with the General Dental Council (GDC), which is required, you have to study towards a degree that is recognised by the GDC.
A foundation degree takes two years, with a degree taking three years to complete. All training courses must be approved by the General Dental Council. The official GDC website provides a list of universities with approved training courses.
Alternatively, a dental nurse qualification recognised by the GDC can also be considered. The requirements will vary between universities, so it’s best to check with your university of choice before submitting your UCAS (University & Colleges Admissions Service) application.
Upon qualifying, you will be required to register with the General Dental Council before you can find employment and then continue training for at least 150 hours every five-year cycle.
That can include workshops, small courses, seminars, conferences etc. The British Society of Dental and Hygiene Therapy (BSDHT) is a valuable resource to keep up to date on the latest training courses available to qualified dental hygienists.
What job opportunities are there for hygienists?
Jobs are mostly found within the National Health Service with hospital salaries beginning at band 5, paying between £21898 to £27901.
Experienced hospital dental hygienists can rise to band six earning £25783 to £34530. NHS jobs could also see you working in local health clinics, or within community dentists. If you are working as a community dentist, your working day may include travelling between different health clinics.
Positions are available for both full and part-time dental hygienists. Within private practice, the salaries will vary between employers, and not every dentist will directly recruit a dental hygienist as an employee.
There are some practices, usually those with a low number of patients, who will actively work to reduce their employment overheads, and instead look for the assistance of a self-employed dental hygienist. Some positions will state that in their job advertisement, but it’s not always the case.
If you fancy having a go at self-employment, you’ll also need business skills and the ability to sell your services to local dentists. If you don’t fancy that route, you will find a number of private general dental practices looking for well-rounded qualified dental hygienists to assist them in patient care.