Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals who focus on preventing and treating oral diseases both to protect teeth and gums, and also to protect patients' total health.

They are graduates of accredited dental hygiene education programs in colleges and universities, and must take written and clinical exams before they are allowed to practice. In addition to treating patients directly, dental hygienists also work as educators, researchers, and administrators.

What Do Dental Hygienists Do?

Each state has its own specific regulations and the range of services performed by dental hygienists vary from one state to another. As part of dental hygiene services, dental hygienists may:

  • perform oral health care assessments that include reviewing patients' health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, and taking and recording blood pressure;
  • expose, process, and interpret dental X-rays;
  • remove plaque and calculus (tartar) soft and hard deposits from above and below the gumline;
  • apply cavity preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth;
  • teach patients proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums;
  • counsel patients about plaque control and developing individualized at home oral hygiene programs; and
  • counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health.

Where Do Dental Hygienists Work?

Dental hygienists can work as clinicians, educators, researchers, administrators, managers, preventive program developers, consumer advocates, sales and marketing managers, editors, and consultants. Clinical dental hygienists may work in a variety of health care settings such as private dental offices, schools, public health clinics, hospitals, managed care organizations, correctional institutions, or nursing homes.

What Does the "RDH" Designation Mean?

The "RDH" means Registered Dental Hygienist. The RDH credential identifies a dental hygienist as a licensed oral health professional. State licensure requirements typically indicate that a dental hygienist must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene education program, successfully pass a national written examination, and a state or regional clinical examination. (In Indiana, the designation LDH [Licensed Dental Hygienist] is used instead of RDH.)

How Can I Get More Information about RDHs?

Please contact the American Dental Hygienists' Association-the largest national organization representing the professional interests of the more than 120,000 licensed dental hygienists nationwide by visiting us on the Internet at OR contact American Dental Hygienists Association, 444 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611 1-800-243-2342.

Who Should Consider a Career in Dental Hygiene?

If you enjoy working with people and have a strong interest in helping people achieve optimum oral health, you would enjoy being a registered dental hygienist.

What are the employment opportunities?

The job market for dental hygienists is expected to grow through 2012 with increased emphasis on disease prevention. In addition, more and more people are retaining their teeth necessitating provision of care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections predicts Dental Hygiene to be one of the top 5 health professions (2002-2012) anticipating a 43% increase.

Last updated: January 2005