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Dental Hygiene

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Dental Hygiene Program - Careers & Professional Organizations

Employment opportunities for dental hygienists are excellent. An increased number of dental insurance plans, greater awareness of the importance of oral hygiene, and an expansion of the role and function of the dental hygienist means a higher employment growth rate than is likely for other occupations.




The majority of dental hygienists are employed in private dental offices, although an increasing number are working in public health agencies, school systems, industrial firms, clinics, hospitals, universities, and research organizations. Specific responsibilities of the hygienist vary with the setting and with the laws of the state in which the hygienist is employed.  Typically, hygienists in private practice will provide the following services:

  • oral prophylaxis (removing deposits and stains from teeth)
  • exposing, processing, and mounting radiographs (x-rays)
  • instructing in preventive dental care
  • counseling on diets
  • applying dental sealants and fluoride
  • taking medical and dental histories

Within school systems, hygienists function as both clinicians and educators. As clinicians, they conduct dental screening examinations, participate in dental surveys and follow-up studies, and provide oral prophylaxes. Expansion of the educator role presents the hygienist with the opportunity to develop and implement classroom programs on oral health as well as serve as a consultant to teachers on dental health education.

Dental hygienists in public health agencies typically have clinical, consultative, or supervisory and administrative responsibilities. These responsibilities include:

  • application of topical fluorides
  • demonstration of new dental preventive methods and procedures
  • assistance in planning, organizing, and conducting community dental health programs
  • participation as dental health advisers in community health activities
  • service as liaisons with agencies to help channel funds from various sources to specified recipient groups

Dental hygiene is a licensed profession. Following graduation from an accredited dental hygiene program, the applicant is required to demonstrate proficiency by successful completion of a board examination that includes both written and clinical practice sections. The license to practice dental hygiene is issued by the state board of dentistry in the state where employment is undertaken.

Professional Organizations

Sigma Phi Alpha is the national dental hygiene honor society, and student election to it is limited to ten percent of each graduating class. Candidates are selected on the basis of scholarship, character, and potential for professional leadership.

Dental hygiene students have the opportunity for membership in the Student American Dental Hygienists' Association, the official organization representing the dental hygiene profession. Student members are provided with invaluable opportunities to preview your career as a dental hygienist. Affiliation with ADHA will help secure the success of your future in dental hygiene.

Graduates of an accredited program in dental hygiene are eligible to become members of ADHA. Active membership has all the benefits as student membership, and many more.

Katie Dawson, President of the American Dental Hygienists' Association (2005),
is presented with an embroidered blanket made by second-year dental hygiene class.