What does a dental hygienist do?

This is an entry-level dentistry position and hygienists work under the supervision of a qualified dentist. Dental hygienists examine patients for gum disease such as gingivitis, working closely with patients of all ages. There is an advisory aspect to the role in that dental hygienists aim to educate patients on the causes of gum disease and tooth decay, providing useful information on topics such the use of mouthwash, dietary causes of poor oral health, cessation of smoking and causes of stains.

Tasks:

  • Assisting in tooth cleaning process
  • Dental charting
  • Applying post-surgical dressing and remove sutures
  • Polishing teeth
  • Advising patients on preventative oral care

What skills do I need to be a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists must have successfully completed the relevant qualifications. Necessary skills include a solid work ethic, a professional yet caring bedside manner, confidence in operating specialised dental equipment, and the ability and willingness to work long hours often on your feet. As the role requires close physical constant with patients, impeccable personal hygiene and good communication skills are essential. The role requires exceptional attention to detail, and the ability to quickly and efficiently follow instructions.
Skills/attributes
  • Efficiency
  • Good hand-eye co-ordination
  • Exceptional personal hygiene
  • Ability to follow detailed instructions
  • Ability to communicate with dental practitioners and patients

Specialisations

Dental hygiene is a stepping-stone to many different career paths. Tailor your studies and training to help you find fulfilment in your professional work. Below are some popular dentistry careers, and there are many more related roles that can be pursued in healthcare.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants play an important role in the smooth running of dental practices. Their main responsibilities involve preparing treatment rooms, sterilising instruments and tools, handing instruments to the dentist during patient care and ensuring all exams and procedures are carried out in compliance with the Dental Practice Act. They also greet patients, seat them in the dentist’s chair and document patient treatment and dental charts during the consultation.

Researcher

This avenue of work involves evidence-based research into dental hygiene procedures and products. Researchers also study the effects of these developments on the oral health care industry and systemic health. Research is conducted as part of post-graduate studies and may be carried out in a dental clinic, training program, laboratory setting or universities offering oral health research programmes.

Consumer Advocate

A career in consumer advocacy typically involves work within specific oral health issues that affect the population such as diabetes, sleep apnoea, fluorides, childhood tooth decay and more. Advocates must keep up-to-date on research and developments, and use multi-media channels such as online, print, TV and radio to pro-actively inform, educate and advise the public on these issues. They may also work as advisors to health sector government departments.

Study pathways for dental assistants

There are opportunities for employment in dental hygiene at many levels, from entry-level positions requiring vocational training to specialised study for those pursuing high-level roles within dentistry.

Getting Started

These vocational courses will allow you to join the dental profession in an entry-level role, requiring supervision from senior staff.

Skill Building

Study for career advancement. Qualify as a dental nurse or pursue a career specialisation.

Professional Development

These study options will enable you to pursue high-level employment options requiring extensive qualification or specialisation in a particular field.

Industry Recognition

Australian dental hygienists must register with the Dental Hygienists' Association of Australia (DHAA) after successful completion of the relevant tertiary qualifications.

Getting a job after graduation

Get your dental hygiene career off to a flying start and fast track your way into a job you’ll love. Target your cover letter and emphasise your qualifications to put your best foot forward when you apply for dentistry jobs.

Job Prospects and Salaries

More people than ever are keeping their natural teeth for their entire lives, and as such, in 2014, government economists predicted job growth for dental hygienists as one of the fastest growing occupations. Australia is currently experiencing a shortage of hygienists so employment opportunities are plentiful.