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Dental Hygienist or Therapist

Dental hygienists carry out a range of treatments for patients, to protect teeth and gums and prevent and treat oral disease. They also promote good oral hygiene. Hygienists do dual training which also qualifies them in dental therapy.

The Work

You could be:

  • scaling and polishing teeth to remove plaque and tartar

  • deep scaling teeth, particularly the roots to help prevent gum disease

  • giving local anaesthetic to make treatment more comfortable

  • applying special coatings and sealants to protect teeth

  • taking radiographs (x-rays) and impressions of your mouth at the dentists' request

  • referring patient to dentist for further treatment

  • showing patients how look after their teeth and gums

  • visiting schools and giving talks to pupils about dental hygiene

  • carrying out teeth whitening (after additional training).
As a dental therapist, in addition to the above, you could also carry out some clinical work including routine fillings for adults and children, simple extractions of baby teeth and special root fillings on baby teeth.


  • You would work in a dental surgery or hospital and may travel to visit clinics, schools and community centres or carry out home visits.

  • Working hours are usually regular but can be set by the dentist.

  • You may need to work some evenings and weekends, perhaps with early morning starts.

  • You may be working for several dental practices at once, a few hours each every week.

  • Part time work is common.

  • If you work in a hospital, you may sometimes be on call.

  • You would wear a white coat and sometimes other protective clothing such as gloves or a mask.

Getting In

  • To qualify as a dental hygienist or therapist, you will need to take a course approved by the General Dental Council (GDC).

  • The BSc in Oral Health Science is a full time degree course lasting three years. It is available at Dundee University, Glasgow Caledonian and the University of the Highlands and Islands (Inverness and Lews Castle campus).

  • Entry varies from 3-4 Highers at BBB to ABBB. Higher Biology is usually required plus another science subject at Standard grade or National 5. See institution websites for details.

  • Edinburgh University is the only institution to offer the BSc Hons Oral Health Sciences. For entry you require 4 Highers at BBBB including Biology.

  • Glasgow Dental Hospital and School runs the Diploma in Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy. This is a full time course which is run over 27 months. For entry you would require 3 Highers at C or above plus 5 subjects at Standard grade or National 5 including English and Biology.

  • It is an advantage to have experience as a dental nurse. The usual way into dental nursing is by working in a dental surgery for at least two years and successfully completing the National Certificate (NC) for dental nurses.

  • You must have good eyesight.

  • You will require a satisfactory PVG (Protecting Vulnerable Groups) check to show that you are suitable for this type of work. Contact Disclosure Scotland for details.

  • You must provide evidence that you do not have, and have been immunised against, Hepatitis B.
Most dental hygienists work in the National Health Service (NHS) or private surgeries and hospitals with dentists or orthodontal or periodontal specialists, but you might also find a job in industry, the armed services or the community. You might be able to work abroad. Today people tend to qualify jointly in dental hygiene and dental therapy.

What Does It Take?

You should be:

  • able to get on well with people from all backgrounds and of all ages

  • friendly and sympathetic

  • a good communicator to explain treatments

  • able to motivate patients to clean their teeth and change their diet

  • able to concentrate

  • good with your hands and able to use delicate instruments

  • well organised

  • smart and tidy.


  • The General Dental Council (GDC) requires compulsory Continuous Professional Development (CPD) of all dental care professionals (DCPs). After qualification all DCPs must keep a portfolio of the CPD they have undergone and show this to the GDC if required.

  • The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) provides courses which are acceptable for CPD purposes.

Getting On

  • You could take further specialist courses such as oral health education which may help you gain promotion.

  • You could specialise in working with children or older people.

  • If you work in a hospital, you may be able to train as a tutor.

  • You could move into research.


  • There is no fixed pay scale for dental hygienists.

  • Employed hygienists must negotiate their pay with their employers although the British Dental Hygienists' Association make annual recommendations.

  • The rates for hygienists in the Community Dental Service depend on regional policy.

  • Under the NHS Agenda for Change pay scales an oral health practitioner in an NHS practice would be on Band 5 which from April 2014 ranges from £21,602 to £28,180 a year. Specialists on Band 6 can earn up to £34,876 a year.

More Information


The following organisation(s) may be able to provide further information.

British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT)
Tel:  01452 886365
Minicom / Textphone: 

Skills for Health
Tel:  0117 922 1155
Minicom / Textphone: 
Note:  Skills for Health is the Sector Skills Council for the health sector.

Disclosure Scotland
Tel:  0870 609 6006
Minicom / Textphone: 

General Dental Council
Tel:  0845 222 4141
Minicom / Textphone: