The dental hygiene profession was founded  more than 100 years ago, in 1913, and today there are more than 185,000 registered dental hygienists across the U.S. who provide professional oral health care to help people maintain healthy smiles and healthy bodies.

The tasks hygienists may perform, and the extent that they must be supervised by a dentist, varies by state and by the setting in which the dental hygienist works. Some states allow hygienists to independently diagnosis health problems and provide some treatments, such as application of fluorides and sealants.

Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job. They clean and polish teeth with hand, power, and ultrasonic tools. 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 powered tool that works like an automatic toothbrush.  Additionally they may apply fluoride or sealants.  Hygienists use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems.

Dental hygienists help patients develop and maintain good oral health. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They also may give advice to patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral-care devices.

Early detection is crucial in preventing the spread of oral cancer that, if undetected, can spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult or nearly impossible to treat. Dental hygienists are the front line of defense against this disease.

Describing the Dental Hygiene Profession

Dental hygienists typically perform 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 clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

In 2014, almost all dental hygienists worked in dentists’ offices, and more than half worked part time.  Learn more about the Work Environment

Dental hygienists need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Programs typically take 3 years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

According to the most recent records by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dental hygienists was $72,330 in May 2015.

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health to general health will continue to spur demand for preventive dental services, which are provided by dental hygienists.

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for dental hygienists.

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dental hygienists with similar occupations.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Dental Hygienists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
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Dental Hygienists one the forefront of Stopping Oral Cancer

Early detection is crucial in preventing the spread of oral cancer that, if undetected, can spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult or nearly impossible to treat. Dental hygienists are the front line of defense against this disease.