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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.
- General Dental Council
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.
- Disclosure and Barring Service (Home Office website)
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.
- British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy
- NHS Business Services Authority
A career as a dental hygienist offers a wide range of challenges. In the dental office, the dentist and the dental hygienist work together to meet the oral health needs of patients. Since each state has its own specific regulations regarding their responsibilities, the range of services performed by hygienists varies from state to state. Some of the services provided by dental hygienists may include:
- patient screening procedures; such as assessment of oral health conditions, review of the health history, oral cancer screening, head and neck inspection, dental charting and taking blood pressure and pulse
- taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays)
- removing calculus and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth
- applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g., sealants and fluorides)
- teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health;
(e.g., toothbrushing, flossing and nutritional counselling)
- counselling patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health
- making impressions of patient’s teeth for study casts (models of teeth used by dentists to evaluate patient treatment needs)
- performing documentation and office management activities
Dental hygiene offers the following challenges and rewards:
Personal satisfaction: One of the most enjoyable aspects of a career in dental hygiene is working with people. Personal fulfilment comes from providing a valuable health care service while establishing trusting relationships with patients.
Prestige: As a result of their education and clinical training in a highly skilled discipline, dental hygienists are respected as valued members of the oral health care team.
Variety: Dental hygienists use a variety of interpersonal and clinical skills to meet the oral health needs of many different patients each day. Hygienists have opportunities to help special population groups such as children, the elderly and the disabled. They may also provide oral health instruction in primary and secondary schools and other settings.
Creativity: Because dental hygienists interact with such diverse population groups, they must be creative in their approach to patient management and oral health education.
Flexibility: The flexibility offered by full- and part-time employment options and the availability of evening and weekend hours enable dental hygienists to balance their career and lifestyle needs. Hygienists also have opportunities to work in a wide variety of settings including private dental practices, educational and community institutions, research teams and dental corporations.
Security: The services that dental hygienists provide are needed and valued by a large percentage of the population. There is currently a great demand for dental hygienists. Employment opportunities will be excellent well into the future. Due to the success of preventive dentistry in reducing the incidence of oral disease, the expanding older population will retain their teeth longer and will be even more aware of the importance of regular dental care. With the emphasis on preventive care, dentists will need to employ more dental hygienists than ever before to meet the increased demand for dental services.