Dental hygienists are an important part of the dental team, preventing dental problems in adults and children.
As a dental hygienist, you’ll help children and adults look after their teeth and gums. Sometimes you might be working on a one-to-one basis while on occasion you’ll work with groups of people.
Most dental hygienists work in general dental practices but you can also find them in hospitals and in community dental services. Many dental hygienists lead teams of oral health educators.
Typical working life
Dental hygienists carry out procedures such as:
- scaling teeth, at times under local anaesthetic
- polishing teeth
- applying topical fluoride and fissure sealants
Your work as a dental hygienist will save teeth by preventing and treating gum disease, helping people get rid of associated problems like bad breath. The dentist will usually advise you and help direct your work, although it’s now possible for hygienists and therapists who have extra training to set up their own practices or work independently in a dental practice so they can see patients without them seeing a dentist first.
In the community, you could work with people with a wide range of special or additional needs.
If you are based in a hospital, you will help patients who may have had major surgery or complicated orthodontic treatment or have particular medical conditions. The hospital patients you see may be very ill, apprehensive or unsure after life-changing surgery.
To be a dental hygienist you will need five GCSE subjects graded A-C or equivalent, plus two A levels or a recognised dental nursing qualification.
Good people and communication skills are very important and, given that you might work in different settings, you will probably be the kind of person who enjoys a job with plenty of variety.
Dental hygienist courses
To practise as a dental hygienist, you need to take a course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC) and then need to register with the GDC.
Subjects studied include:
- anatomy and physiology
- preventive dentistry
- dental health education
- dental pathology
- the management and care of patients
Several dental schools offer courses combining dental hygiene and dental therapy.
Use the NHS Health Careers course finder to search for courses in dental hygiene.