37.5 per week
£21,909 + per year
If you have good communication skills, and you are interested in helping people to look after their teeth and gums, then the role of dental hygienist could be for you.
Dental hygienists (also known as oral health practitioners) give adults and children advice and information on how to keep their teeth and gums healthy.
They also provide treatments to help prevent and treat tooth decay and gum disease. They work under the instruction of dentists to help prevent dental problems.
To work as a dental hygienist you would need to take a General Dental Council approved course.
As a dental hygienist, your main role is to encourage patients to look after their teeth and gums. You would also give treatments to patients. You would use a range of dental instruments to:
- remove plaque
- clean and polish teeth to help prevent gum disease
- apply antibacterial 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 to individuals and groups.
You would also maintain sterile conditions and occasionally take x-rays. A dental nurse may support you for some procedures.
You could work in general dental practice, the community dental service and in hospitals.
You would usually work between 8.30am and 5pm, with occasional evening and weekend duties.
If you were based at a hospital, you could work shifts or be on call. If you worked for the community dental service, your day-to-day work would usually involve travelling between patients and health centres. As a self-employed hygienist, you would often see clients at a number of locations.
Part-time hours and opportunities for self-employment are often available.
The pay system in the NHS is called Agenda for Change (AfC).
Dental hygienists are usually on AfC band 5, earning between £21,909 and £28,462.
With experience this could rise to band 6, earning between £26,302 and £35,225.
Before you can work as a dental hygienist, you would need to take one of the following General Dental Council (GDC) approved courses:
- a foundation degree in oral health science
- a diploma of higher education (DipHE) in dental hygiene, or dental hygiene and dental therapy
- a degree in oral health science, or dental therapy and dental hygiene.
The foundation degree and DipHE courses normally take two years to complete. The degree course usually takes three years, full-time.
See the GDC website for a list of approved courses and providers.
To do a course, you would usually need:
- five GCSEs (A-C), including English and a biological science
- two A levels (preferably in science subjects), or a recognised dental nurse qualification.
Experience as a dental nurse may help you.
Check with individual course providers for exact entry requirements as other qualifications may also be accepted.
You would also need to pass background checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), as you would be working with children and vulnerable adults. See the DBS website for more information.
See the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) website for a list of training schools. For course funding information, see the NHS Business Services Authority website.
Training and development
Once you are on an approved training programme, you will spend time on clinical work placements, and at college or university studying subjects such as:
- anatomy and physiology
- preventive dentistry
- diet and nutrition
- dental health promotion
- dental radiography.
When you have completed the diploma or degree, you will need to register with the General Dental Council (GDC). See the GDC website for details.
You will need to keep your skills up to date throughout your career and complete around 150 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) activity during every five years. You can do this in a number of ways, for example by going to conferences, courses, workshops and meetings. See the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) for further details.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be a dental hygienist, you should have:
- an interest and ability in science, anatomy and physiology
- the ability to motivate clients to improve their dental hygiene
- excellent communication skills to explain treatments and put patients at ease
- the confidence to handle equipment
- good eyesight and steady hands for carrying out precision work
- the ability to concentrate for long periods
- good teamwork skills.
British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy
Tel: 01452 886 365
General Dental Council
Tel: 0845 222 4141
Tel: 0345 60 60 655
Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150 850
You will find most job opportunities in the NHS and independent general dental practices.
You could also work for the community dental service, a hospital dental service, or the armed forces.
With experience you may be able to move into dental practice management or teaching student dental hygienists. You could also move into a related area such as orthodontic therapy (a specialism which aims to improve the appearance, position and function of crooked teeth) or health promotion.
Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, and on the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) and NHS Jobs websites.
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