Dental hygienists are important members of the dental healthcare team because they perform clinical and health promotion roles.
As a dental hygienist, you’ll teach and encourage patients about correct tooth and gum care, provide treatments to prevent oral problems, and advise on oral hygiene and eating.
You might practise in various settings, such as dental offices, hospitals, the community, or on your own. Patients with varying dental care needs range from infants to the elderly.
Throughout your apprenticeship, you may help:
- remove plaque
- clean and polish teeth to help prevent gum disease
- apply fluoride and sealant treatments to reduce decay
- give local anaesthetic under the supervision of a dentist
- apply temporary coatings and sealants to protect teeth
- encourage and demonstrate tooth brushing and flossing
- sterilise equipment
- check and maintain patient records.
- Starting salaries for dental hygienists working in the NHS are typically between £24,907 and £30,615 (band 5).
- Specialist dental hygienists can earn between £31,365 and £37,890 (band 6).
- Experienced hygienists with training responsibilities may be able to earn up to £44,503 (band 7).
- Hourly rates can range from around £16.56 to £31.18 per hour.
Typically, you’ll work 37 to 38 hours a week, from 8.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Depending on your employment, you may be called in at night or on weekends on occasion.
If you work at a hospital, you may be forced to work weekends or shifts.
If you work for a community dental service, you may also need to be adaptable.
Dental hygienists often work in more than one dental office, hospital, or community dental service throughout their working week.
You could work at a dental practice, in an NHS or private hospital or at a health centre.
You may need to wear protective clothing and a uniform.
Qualifications you can achieve as an apprentice dental hygienist include:
- Level 3 Dental Nurse – Entry requirements for this level include 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent, for a higher or degree apprenticeship. This qualification will take 18 months to complete.
- Level 4 Oral Health Practitioner – Entry requirements for this level include 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths, for an advanced apprenticeship. This qualification will take 14 months to complete.
You must already be a licenced dental nurse or other competent dental care professional with the General Dental Council to be eligible for the oral health practitioner apprenticeship.
On a dental hygienist apprenticeship, you’ll learn:
- customer service skills
- knowledge of medicine and dentistry
- excellent verbal communication skills
- sensitivity and understanding
- to be thorough and pay attention to detail
- the ability to work well with others
- the ability to work well with your hands
- patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
- to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device.
Typical employers of dental hygienists include:
- general dental practices
- community dental services
- dental hospitals
- private companies in industry
- defence dental services.
Once certified, you’ll need to keep your skills sharp and your knowledge up to date. To keep your GDC registration, you must complete at least 75 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) activities relevant to your practice for five years.
The BSDHT organises several CPD events as well as an annual conference. Membership also gives you access to networking opportunities via regional group study days and networks, as well as resources and support.
Master’s level education in an area related to dental hygiene, such as dental public health, is possible.
After being qualified, you will work as a dental hygienist and gain experience. However, you may work as a dental therapist if you have a dual degree in dental hygiene and therapy.
The job market is generally favourable. For example, oral health and related health disorders are growing more widespread as the population ages, meaning that dental health professionals are in high demand.
With experience, there are some opportunities for development in dental practice management.
It may be possible to transfer from direct patient treatment to educating the next generation of dental hygiene or dental therapy students with additional skills and training.
You might also work in a related sector, such as orthodontics, public health, or as a health improvement practitioner.