Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work as part of the dental team in treating patients. They use preventive, educational and therapeutic methods for the control of oral diseases to aid individual patients and groups in achieving and maintaining oral health. They are trained to do specific clinical procedures which aim to prevent dental disease and work under the supervision of a dentist.

There is currently a shortage of hygienists due mainly to the shortage of training facilities and places are limited in Australia, thus competition for this dental career is keen.

Overview

  • What is a dental hygienist?

    A dental hygienist is a registered primary healthcare professional who provides highly skilled preventive services on all age groups without cutting or removing teeth. As a clinician they work in collaboration with a dentist to determine therapeutic treatment for each individual patient, but work independently in delivering their dental services. They work within a team environment to assure best practice in providing safe and appropriate dental healthcare.

    A dental hygienist career would be a good dentistry position for you if you have good time management (efficient), apply attention to detail and precision (accurate) and possess good hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. In addition, if you find being a good listener with sensitivity to the needs of others as personally rewarding, you have some of the qualities that make you well suited to be a dental hygienist.

  • What do dental hygienists do?

    A dental hygienist’s clinical role includes a variety of duties that are focused on diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive duties to support total health for the control of oral diseases. The Dental Act in each state regulates the procedures that a dental hygienist can perform.

    As part of dental hygiene services, a dental hygienist career in New South Wales may include:
    • Perform oral health assessments that include taking a health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, saliva testing and taking vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, blood glucose, respiration);
    • Expose, process and interpret dental X-rays;
    • Make impressions of the teeth for plaster study models and mouthguard construction;
    • Photograph exterior and interior oral structures to profile stages of treatment and outcomes;
    • Administer anaesthetic injections to numb the teeth and gums;
    • Remove plaque, calculus (soft and hard deposits) and stain from above and below the gum line;
    • Polish the teeth and dental restorations;
    • Perform root planing for non-surgical periodontal therapy;
    • Place and remove a post-surgical dressing and remove sutures;
    • Select and size orthodontic bands, prepare teeth for placement of braces and remove wires and fixed orthodontic appliances;
    • Apply decay preventive agents such as fluorides, varnishes and sealants to the teeth;
    • Teach oral hygiene techniques to help people maintain healthy teeth and gums; and
    • Counsel patients on plaque control, good nutrition, smoking cessation and systemic health.

    Dental hygienists use their knowledge and clinical skills to provide dental hygiene care and their interpersonal skills to motivate and instruct patients on methods tailored to preventing oral disease and maintaining oral health.

    A dental hygienist must practice under legislative regulations much like other registered health professionals such as nurses, dentists, physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, optometrists, osteopaths, chiropractors and psychologists. Registration to practice a dental hygienist job requires proof of successful completion of an accredited dental hygiene diploma or university degree evidenced by the state dental board and once granted must be renewed annually. Some states may require dental hygienists to participate in continuing education courses for the renewal of their registration. The process of registration represents the strongest form of protection for the public from unqualified individuals and unsafe practices.

  • Where do dental hygienists work?

    A dental hygiene profession offers women and men of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds exceptional career opportunities to work as clinicians, educators, researchers, consumer advocates, sales and marketing managers, editors, authors and consultants in an array of flexible work schedules.

    The majority of dental hygienists are employed as clinicians with dentists in the private sector working in single and group dental practices. There is currently a strong demand for dental hygienists in both private and public sectors in regional and rural locations in most states of Australia, so considering a dental hygienist career would be a great idea.

    Clinicians: Clinical dental hygienists must work under the guidance of a dentist, which can be in a variety of health care settings such as private dental offices, community dental clinics, schools, hospitals or nursing homes. Dental hygienists have the ability to work in specialised areas of dentistry that include aged care, special needs, orthodontics, periodontics, prosthodontics and paedodontics. In some states a dental hygienist can be the owner of a dental practice, but they must employ a dentist and work under his or her guidance in the delivery of dental care.

    Educator: Dental hygienists can apply the skills and knowledge from their work experience in teaching dental students and dental hygiene students in the university degree programs. This is a dental career avenue that can lead toward advanced degrees, such as a Masters degree or a PhD to qualify for a position as Professor.

    Researcher: Dental hygienists have a significant role to play in establishing evidence-based dental hygiene procedures and products and their affects on the oral environment and systemic health. Research is a component of advanced degrees and can be conducted in the dental clinic of a practice or training program, or within a laboratory setting. As well, dental hygiene faculties at universities may also be involved in oral health research.

    Consumer Advocate: Dental hygienists may come to concentrate their work on specific oral health implications that pertain to population-based issues such as diabetes, sleep apnoea, fluorides, childhood decay, etc. They stay well informed of the current research and activities to take on an active role of informing, educating and advising the public through health promotion using online, print, TV and radio media, as well an advisory role to the relevant government committees.

    Sales and Marketing Manager: Dental hygienists can be employed by product and service companies in the dental industry to lead both professional and public marketing campaigns. The work involves building customer relationships, identifying and presenting the market and the customer requirements as well as organising and participating in trade exhibitions.

    Editor/Author: Dental hygienists can apply their skills and knowledge toward informing and educating the dental profession on current issues, techniques and research. This position can involve a professional magazine, journal or textbook and requires writing skills, self-motivation, good organisational and time management skills (deadlines), attention to detail and creativity.

    Consultant: Dental hygienists that have achieved a level of clinical efficiency in time management that combines effective business and patient-centred principles can choose to share their achievements with dental professionals as a speaker delivering educational courses and/or advising the individual dental practice through onsite consultations. Additionally, dental hygienists can be employed by dental companies to create and deliver educational material to healthcare professionals and the public as an Educational Consultant.

    Statistics on the Australian labour market - dental hygienist, therapist, technician

How to become a dental hygienist

  • How do you become a dental hygienist in New South Wales?

    Dental hygiene offers excellent career opportunities for the high school graduate and non-traditional student (i.e. an individual who is over 23 years of age, an individual seeking a career change or re-entry or an individual from a culturally diverse background).

    To become a qualified dental hygienist and achieve a dental career, you need to gain a tertiary level qualification with the minimum standard being a 2 year Advanced Diploma of Oral Health in Dental Hygiene (only offered in Adelaide, South Australia) Visit Website

    New South Wales offers three bachelor degree programs (3 years full time):

    • The University of Newcastle; Ourimbah Campus – Bachelor of Oral Health (Dental Hygiene and Oral Health Promotion) Visit Website
    • The University of Sydney; Cumberland, Sydney Dental Hospital and Westmead campuses - Bachelor of Oral Health (Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy combined program) Visit Website
    • Charles Sturt University; Wagga Wagga campus - Bachelor of Oral Health Visit Website

    The University of Newcastle provides honours and postgraduate research programs in health Science. Visit website.

    Your entry to one of the New South Wales degree programs is based on the UAI (University Admission Index), which is your overall academic achievement in the HSC/ACT Year 12. The UAI is considered the best single prediction of tertiary success by most tertiary institutions in Australia. You may also be required to sit selection tests and attend an interview process.

    If you are a non-traditional student the selection criteria will include:
    Your previous Year 12 studies; and/or

    • Higher education, tertiary or post-secondary qualifications; and/or
    • Overseas qualifications considered equivalent to Australian qualifications.

    Entry to dental hygiene training programs is highly competitive and has strict quotas. Having prerequisites of biology and chemistry, and Certificates III and IV in Dental Assisting can be beneficial. Contact your chosen university for more information as requirements may change.

    The Mutual Recognition Act of 1992 allows for dental hygienist graduates and practicing dental hygienists to apply for registration to practice their equivalent dental occupation in any state or territory in Australia as well as New Zealand (Trans Tasman Agreement). Enquiries for practice in New South Wales should be made to the Dental Board of NSW for the specific documentation they require. Visit Website

  • If you are considering a dental hygienist career you should:

    • Take high school courses in health, biology, chemistry, mathematics, speech and psychology
    • Apply for work experience in a dental practice or community dental clinic
    • Have good vision and manual dexterity
      • To perform independent detailed and precise work
      • Have good interpersonal communication skills
        • To provide information, education and advice to people of all ages, races and gender
        • To instil motivation toward healthy goals
        • To be sensitive to the needs of others
      • Be able to prepare, understand and act on written materials (letters, reports, summaries)
        • To analyse, plan, organise and problem solve
      • Have good organizational and time management skills
      • Enjoy working with others in a team environment
      • Be interested in the delivery of health care

Career Paths

  • Dental Hygienist Job Opportunities

    Government economists predict job growth for clinical dental hygienists to be one of the faster growing occupations through 2014. Greater numbers of people are keeping their natural teeth throughout their lives due to a greater emphasis on oral health promotion and the introduction of new and advanced dental treatments. The need to provide preventive and therapeutic services that assist people in maintaining healthy natural teeth throughout their lifetime puts dental hygiene career in high demand; now and in the future.

  • What career paths exist for dental hygienists?

    Dental hygienists can complete further education to advance their career within the dental workforce. Education and training institutions are facilitating post-graduate dentistry qualifications.

    • Graduate Certificates
      • Part time course up to 3 years
      • Broadens individual skills already gained in undergraduate program
      • University of Adelaide offers a clinical Graduate Certificate in Dentistry
      • Curtin University (WA) offers non-clinical Graduate Certificates in areas of health promotion and public health Visit Website
    • Graduate Diplomas
      • Typically 1 to 2 year full time course
      • Develop knowledge and skills in a related professional area
      • Clinical courses in dental hygiene are not available in Australia at present
      • The University of New England offers a non-clinical Graduate Diploma in Health Management Visit Website
      • Curtin University (WA) offers non-clinical Graduate Diplomas in areas of health promotion and public health Visit Website
    • Master of Science Degree (MS)
      • 1 to 2 year course
      • Acquiring in-depth understanding of a specific area of knowledge through research, coursework or a combination of both
      • The University of Newcastle offers a Master of Philosophy Degree in Oral Health Visit Website
      • Curtin University (WA) offers non-clinical master degrees in areas of health promotion and public health Visit Website
    • Doctorate Degree (PhD)
      • Typically over 3 years
      • Self-directed research and coursework
      • Doctorate programs are in Dental Hygiene and related disciplines (ex: Community Health)
      • Programs in dental hygiene not available in Australia at present
      • Curtin University (WA) offers a non-clinical doctorate degree in public health Visit Website

More Info

  • A Rewarding Career

    Dental hygienists initiate a range of interventions to promote oral health and to prevent or control oral disease. These actions involve the acquisition of knowledge through consultation, perception and examination and may be provided in independent, interdependent and collaborative relationships with the patient and the health care team.

    A dental hygiene career offers personal satisfaction in providing valuable health care services and developing trusting relationships with patients. Flexible work schedules make balancing work and lifestyle needs very achievable.

  • Information websites

  • Where can I get more dental hygiene job information in NSW?

    • Your school careers advisor
    • Your local dental practice
    • The Dental Hygienists’ Association of Australia, NSW Branch, Inc.
      Mobile: 0411-473-762
      Email: DHAA_NSW@tpg.net.au
    • Dental hygienist labour force in Australia, 2005. AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Unit, Research Report No. 22
    • Profile of the Dental Auxiliaries Workforce in NSW 2006 (dental therapists and dental hygienists)
    • The Australian Dental Association, Inc. (National) Policy Statement on Allied Dental Professionals in Australia.