What Dental Hygienists Do
Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral diseases, such as gingivitis, and provide preventive care, including oral hygiene.
Nearly all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, and many work part time.
How to Become a Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Programs usually take 3 years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.
The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $76,220 in May 2019.
Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.
Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral diseases, such as gingivitis, and provide preventive care, including oral hygiene. They also educate patients about oral health.
Dental hygienists typically do the following:
- Remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
- Apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
- Take and develop dental x rays
- Assess patients’ oral health and report findings to dentists
- Document patient care and treatment plans
- Educate patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly
Dental hygienists use many types of tools—including hand, power, and ultrasonic tools—in their work. In some cases, they use lasers. Hygienists remove stains with an air-polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a power tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists also use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems.
Dental hygienists talk to patients about ways to keep their teeth and gums healthy. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They may also advise patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral care devices.
The tasks hygienists may perform, and the extent to which they must be supervised by a dentist, vary by state and by the setting in which the dental hygienist works. A few states allow hygienists with additional training, sometimes called dental therapists, to provide some restorative services, such as extracting primary teeth and placing temporary crowns.
Dental hygienists held about 226,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of dental hygienists were as follows:
|Offices of dentists||93%|
|Offices of physicians||1|
Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. When taking x rays, they follow procedures to protect themselves and patients from radiation.
Many dental hygienists work part time. Dentists may hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of dental hygienists.
For information about educational requirements and available accredited programs for dental hygienists, visit
For information about accredited programs and educational requirements, visit
The State Board of Dental Examiners in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.
For a career video on dental hygienists, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Hygienists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm (visited ).