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.
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 a patient's mouth at the dentist's request
referring the patient to a dentist for further treatment
showing patients how to 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.
There is no fixed pay scale for dental hygienists.
Employed hygienists must negotiate their pay with their employers, although the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy makes 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, £26,104 to £32,915 a year. Specialists are on Band 6, £33,072 to £40,736 a year.
The current pay scales are from April 2021.
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.
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 the University of Dundee, Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of the Highlands and Islands (Inverness and Lews Castle campus).
Entry varies from 4 Highers at BBBB to ABBB. Higher Biology is usually required plus another science subject at National 5. See institution websites for details.
The University of Edinburgh is the only institution to offer a 4-year BSc Hons Oral Health Sciences. For entry you require 4 Highers at BBBB including Biology.
A Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND) in Dental Nursing would also give you entry to year 1 of the degree course.
You will require a satisfactory criminal record check from Disclosure Scotland to show that you are suitable for this type of work. Contact Disclosure Scotland for details on the type you would need.
It is recommended, and in some cases necessary, that you provide evidence that you do not have, and have been immunised against, blood borne viruses such as 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.
able to get on well with people from all backgrounds and of all ages
friendly and empathetic
able to motivate patients to take care of their teeth and change their diet
able to concentrate
good with your hands and able
You should have:
a steady hand to be able to carry out delicate work using instruments
patience and understanding, some people may have a fear
excellent communication skills, to explain treatments to people.
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.
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.