Employment opportunities for dental hygienists have never been better. An increased number of dental insurance plans, greater awareness of the importance of oral hygiene, and an expansion of the role and function of the dental hygienist means a higher employment growth rate than is likely for many other occupations.
The majority of hygienists are employed in private dental offices, although an increasing number are working in public health agencies, school systems, industrial firms, clinics, hospitals, universities, and research organizations. Specific responsibilities of the hygienist vary with the setting and with the laws of the state in which the hygienist is employed. Typically, hygienists in private practice will provide the following services:
- oral prophylaxis (removing deposits and stains from teeth)
- exposing, processing, and mounting radiographs (x-rays)
- instructing in preventive dental care
- counseling on diets
- applying dental sealants and fluoride
- taking medical and dental histories
Within school systems, hygienists function in two roles: clinicians and educators. As clinicians, they conduct dental screening examinations, participate in dental surveys and follow-up studies, and provide oral prophylaxes. Expansion of the educator role presents the hygienist with the opportunity to develop and implement classroom programs on oral health and to serve as a consultant to teachers on dental health education.
- Dental hygienists in public health agencies typically have clinical, consultative, supervisory, and/or administrative responsibilities. These responsibilities include:
- application of topical fluorides
- demonstration of new dental preventive methods and procedures
- assistance in planning, organizing, and conducting community dental health programs
- participation as dental health advisers in community health activities
- service as liaisons with agencies to help channel funds from various sources to specified recipient groups
Dental hygiene is a licensed profession. Following graduation from an accredited program, dental hygienists will be required to demonstrate proficiency by successful completion of a board examination that includes both written and clinical practice sections. The license to practice dental hygiene is issued by the state board of dentistry in the state where the hygienist is employed.