Dental hygienist Oral health practitioner

Dental hygienists give advice, information and treatments to prevent and treat tooth decay and gum disease.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £22,000 to £41,500 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 37.5 per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll 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 usually take 2 years to complete. The degree course usually takes 3 years, full-time. 

The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) lists training schools.

You’ll need clearance from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

You may be able to get NHS funding to pay for your course fees and help with your living expenses.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • the ability to motivate clients to improve their dental hygiene
  • excellent communication skills to explain treatments to patients and put them at ease
  • good eyesight and steady hands for carrying out precision work
  • the ability to concentrate for long periods

3. What you'll do

You’ll encourage patients to look after their teeth and gums by:

  • demonstrating tooth brushing and flossing to individuals and groups
  • giving advice on diet

You’ll also give treatments and use dental instruments for:

  • removing plaque
  • cleaning and polishing teeth to help prevent gum disease
  • applying antibacterial treatments to reduce decay
  • giving local anaesthetic under the supervision of a dentist
  • applying temporary coatings and sealants to protect teeth
  • encouraging and demonstrating tooth brushing and flossing

You’ll also maintain sterile conditions and occasionally take x-rays. A dental nurse may support you for some procedures.

You may work in general dental practice, the community dental service and in hospitals.

4. Salary

Starter: £22,000 to £26,000

Experienced: £28,500 to £35,000

Highly Experienced: Up to £41,500

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You’ll usually work 8.30am to 5pm, with occasional evening and weekend duties.

If you’re based at a hospital, you could work shifts or be on call.

If you’re working for the community dental service, you’ll usually travel between patients and health centres.

As a self-employed hygienist, you’ll see clients at a number of locations.

6. Career path and progression

With experience, you could progress to team manager, community matron or a management role in another department of the NHS. 

You could also set up your own dental practice, or go into nurse education and training.

Last updated: 05 October 2016