Dental Hygienist Salary and Career Resource

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What is the Job Description of a Dental Hygienist?

Have you wondered what exactly is a Dental Hygienist’s Job Description? What do they exactly do?

It’s not “Just a Cleaning”!

Most patients do not fully understand exactly what their dental hygienist is doing when they show up for their preventative care recall appointment, periodontal therapy, or what they like to call it, their “cleaning”.

As registered dental hygienists we understand the importance of what we are doing for our patients oral health and if you are considering entering the profession it is important to understand exactly what the “cleaning” ladies and gentlemen are doing!

Main Goals

A Registered Dental Hygienist is an essential part of a successful dental team. One of the main goals as a dental hygienist is to achieve optimal oral health in our patients.

The number one thing we do that helps aid this goal is to educate our patients on how to properly care for their teeth and gums.  A dental hygienist is well trained on how to correctly brush and floss as well as educated on the adjuncts that some patients need to thoroughly clean their teeth.  Patient compliance is key!

Before the “cleaning” ever begins

After greeting and seating the patient, reviewing medical/dental history, and recording current blood pressure the Registered Dental Hygienist will take all necessary x-rays that the dentist will need to thoroughly exam the teeth, take intraoral camera pictures to show patient (for education – so important), and address any chief complaints.

What the Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) Actually Does

Registered Dental Hygienists remove all tarter (hard deposits), plaque (biofilm), and stain from above and below the gumline using a combination of hand instruments, air driven handpieces, and ultrasonic scalers.

Many factors influence how much tarter any individual will build up and what type of prophylaxis they will need.  Some patients require scaling and root planning followed by a strict periodontal maintenance program.

As a dental hygienist, you will assess the periodontal status of every patient you see.  Bleeding, inflammation, pain, boneloss, etc, will all affect the way the treatment is performed.   Once all tarter is removed the teeth are typically polished with a rubber cup polisher or baking soda prophy jet polisher.  Some hygienists actually choose to polish first.  Flossing is essential at the end of the appointment to remove any biolfilm/plaque or polish that remains between the teeth.

Dental Hygienists also provide preventative treatment in the form of Fluoride treatments and sealant placement in the grooves of posterior teeth that show no signs of decay.


The dental hygienist works with the dentist to create a treatment plan to best suit the patient needs.  Though a dental hygienist cannot diagnose disease, their opinions should be respected and considered as an educated part of the dental team.

Additional Duties

Tasks that can be legally preformed by Dental Hygienists vary from state to state.  In some states Dental Hygienists can administer local anesthetic and apply temporary fillings. Dental office duties such as sterilization of instruments, taking impressions, and setting recall appointments are also performed by dental hygienists.

Business as Usual

Another important aspect of dental hygiene treatment focuses more on the legal and business side.

Documentation!!  Accurate documentation is essential for all treatment that is provided, needed, billed to insurance, or charged to patient directly.  Whether the charting and treatment planning is done on paper or electronically, being accurate and thorough is vital.

As far as the business side, well, dentistry is still a business.  By educating our patients of their needs and addressing any concerns about these needs (usually it’s financial concerns) we will improve case acceptance in the practice.

Patient Relations

I see it over and over, when the dentist leaves the room after diagnosing treatment, the patient will look to you for clarification and advice.  Typically the dental hygienist is the one who has really created a good rapport with the patients and the patients trust and value your advice regarding their needs.

Listen to your patients carefully with the intent to fully understand their needs and concerns.  I have found that the bonds I have with my patients is one of the most rewarding components of being a dental hygienist.

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