Dental hygienists have a vital role in helping to prevent dental problems from arising.
As a dental hygienist, you will show children and adults how to look after their teeth and gums. This can be on an individual basis or in groups.
Dental hygienists carry out procedures such as:
scaling teeth (at times under local anaesthetic)
applying topical fluoride and fissure sealants
They work in hospitals and in community dental services, but most frequently in general dental practice. Many dental hygienists lead teams of oral health educators.
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.
Entry requirements, skills and interests
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.
Training and development
To practise as a dental hygienist, you need to take an appropriate course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC). You will then need to register with the GDC.
The course is offered by dental schools and usually takes two years or up to 27 months full-time.
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 our course finder to search for courses in dental hygiene leading to registration with the GDC.
- Pay and conditions Expand / Collapse
Dental hygienists may be self-employed or employed directly by a practice. Those working for NHS hospitals or community clinics will typically work around 37.5 hours a week. Working hours will vary in general practice. Some evening or weekend work may be required.
- Where the role can lead Expand / Collapse
Experienced dental hygienists can progress to become practice managers, teach on training courses, or decide to develop further skills such as sedation training or tooth whitening to a dentist's prescription. Some may decide to work as orthodontic therapists.
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Jobs directly in the NHS are advertised on NHS Jobs and dental practice jobs are generally advertised in trade journals. The job market is subject to regional variations, so it’s best to check the situation where you want to work to see what opportunities are on offer. For example, when you qualify, make sure you ask university staff about job prospects.
If you're applying for a role either directly in the NHS or in an organisation that provides NHS services, you'll be asked to show how you think the NHS values apply in your everyday work.
Find out more about NHS values.
- Further information Expand / Collapse