Dental Hygienist Career

What Do People Think You Do?

Many people think I assist the doctor in his work or just “clean teeth”.

What Do You Really Do?

In reality, I work alone most of the time. I evaluate bone loss, perform screenings for oral cancer, remove plaque, tartar buildup, and stains from the teeth, and keep up-to-date on oral health products to inform my patients and make personal recommendations.

The doctor does his dental exams, where he checks the teeth for bite problems and cavities and makes referrals to specialists for anything he doesn’t do in the office. The dentist also places anesthesia for any work I need that would otherwise make the patient uncomfortable.

We work together and sometimes I act as a liaison between the patient and doctor by informing the doctor of the patient’s concerns and my findings while working.

A Day In The Life

At the start of the day, there is usually a morning huddle, depending on how many patients are seen at a given time and how many staff are employed. Smaller offices with one assistant and hygienist usually don’t have a group meeting. This huddle is where you learn about why the patients are coming in that day, what needs to be discussed or clarified with the patient before beginning treatment, their financial arrangements for treatment that day, and what to schedule them to come back for at the end of today’s visit.

My schedule is usually very simple, as most people come in for routine cleanings. Before the first patient arrives, everyone is busy ensuring everything is turned on, including water lines, suctions, computers, and restocking rooms, so you don’t run out of supplies when you need it most. I usually review my charts if they’re digital or if I have paper charts available, so I can remember our last conversation and think about what I want to ask them-like how their cruise went or if they liked the new car they were buying the last time we spoke.

When my first patient arrives, I walk into the waiting room and call them back. I check their blood pressure, review their medical history, and ask about any new allergies, medications, or surgeries we might be unaware of. If the patient is due for check-up X-rays, or if they have a problem area, we take X-rays. These assist the dentist in looking for decay between the teeth or for any other problems like fractures and abscesses.

I check their mouth for oral cancer and their gums for bone loss. Also, I use an ultrasonic cleaner, much like an electric toothbrush with water, to clean the teeth of plaque and tartar. Then, I polish the teeth with a fine grit to remove stains. I floss and use my hand tools to pick off the remaining fragments that the ultrasonic machine missed. I then alert the dentist that the patient needs an exam. If the patient has any questions about what the doctor said, I will go over this with them and educate them with the use of their X-rays or photos taken. I also make recommendations on oral care at this time.

After the dentist does their exam, I give the patients their free tooth cleaning aides and let the front office staff know if they have work to come back for or if they need to be scheduled for their next routine cleaning.

After the patient leaves, I clean the room, disinfecting anything that was touched or that may have been splashed on. I take the instruments and trash to the sterilization area, where I prep the instruments for the sterilization process.

At the end of the day, trash is taken out, and all the instruments are processed. All the equipment is turned off and shut down.

What’s The Average Income?

Depending on where you live, you can make between $30-$50 per hour.

What Education If Any Is Needed?

An associate’s degree in applied science, written testing by the national board, and a regional clinical exam are needed to be licensed. Some colleges accept students based on their previous employment in a dental office and any existing bachelor’s degree in any field. You can apply without any of these credentials, but it has become a competitive process, so it’s less likely you will get accepted over a person who has a degree or has worked in a dental office. I would suggest going to assist school first, working the front office, and keeping your GPA high because that is a big factor, too.

Something Important To Know

It is not an easy job to do. It often takes all your mental and physical concentration, even emotional, to finish a task. It involves multi-tasking most of the day and is very friendly and upbeat regardless of the situation. You should be able to handle stress professionally at all times. The education required to get a license is strenuous at times. But it is also a very rewarding profession. You will make a difference in the oral health of many families. It usually begins with one family member being very happy with their results based on something you said or did to help them. Then they bring their kids and spouse. You will watch children grow and be part of their lives. Your patients will have milestones, and you will hear about and be part of some of them. It truly is a journey with others.

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