The dental hygienist's role is to help prevent tooth decay and maintain healthy gums and bones. To achieve this, a dental hygienist administers preventive dental treatment, most commonly by cleaning teeth, which consists of removing tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth. In addition, a dental hygienist may give instructions regarding care of the teeth, take x-rays, and assist a dentist with routine tasks. These tasks include mixing compounds for filling cavities, sterilizing dental instruments and assisting in surgical work.
There are two types of training available for hygienists. One is a four-year college program offering a bachelor's degree; the other is a two-year program leading to dental hygiene certification. The minimum requirement for admission to a dental hygiene school is graduation from high school. There are a growing number of quality dental hygiene programs in Illinois.
Individuals considering a career in dental hygiene should be comfortable working with other people. In addition, skill in handling delicate instruments, a sensitive touch, and good depth perception are important attributes.
After graduation from a dental hygiene training program, a prospective hygienist must pass both written and clinical state licensing exams in order to receive a license to practice.
A dental hygienist's income is influenced by such factors as education, experience, locale, and type of employer. Most dental hygienists who work in private dental offices are salaried employees, though some are paid a commission for work performed or a combination of salary and commission.
According to 2001 national averages, experienced dental hygienists working in a private dental office earn from about $25 to $30 per hour, or $50,000 to $60,000 annually for full-time employment. Salaries in large metropolitan areas are generally higher than in small cities and towns. Many dental hygienists receive benefits packages from their dentist/employers, which may include health insurance coverage, dues for membership in professional organizations, paid vacations and sick leave, and tuition assistance for continuing education.
Population growth, rising personal incomes, public awareness of the importance of oral health, and a shortage of dental hygienists in some parts of the country should result in continued demand for the skills of dental hygienists.
The American Dental Association provides a fact sheet and brochure about dental hygiene. You can access their website by clicking here: http://www.ada.org/. The American Dental Hygienists Association is another resource for information on this fulfilling career.