What is a dental hygienist?
Dental hygienists remove deposits from teeth, educate patients on techniques to healthy oral hygiene, and provide preventative and health promotion strategies regarding dental care.
According to the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, a dental hygienist is an oral health professional who is a registered member of a governing body.
Their responsibilities include clinical therapy, education, administration, and research. Dental hygienists are part of the dental health care team and often work with dentists, dental assistants, and other health care members.
Education and training
Like many health professions, dental hygiene is governed by a provincial regulatory body. Prospective dental hygienists must graduate from a recognized dental hygiene diploma or baccalaureate program in Canada.
Furthermore, they must register with their appropriate provincial licensing body. The law requires dental hygienists practice safely and ethically, and promote the safety and well-being of their patients.
Diploma programs are found in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. For a complete listing, visit the CDHA website.
Dalhousie University’s program is a one-year degree completion program.
Students take courses that emphasize and examine oral and clinical science, public health (health promotion), radiography theory and laboratory, human anatomy and physiology, theory of dental hygiene practice, health status assessment, oral histology and pathology, and effective communication. Clinical practical opportunities allow students to apply what they learn from the classroom in a clinical setting.
Students that matriculate at a school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of Canada (CDAC) are permitted to sit for the National Dental Hygiene Certification Board exam.
Conversely, those who graduate from a non-accredited school must first submit their curriculum of study to the CDAC in order to ensure they meet the Commission’s standards, and the student is then allowed to write the national examination.
In both cases, upon successful completion of the examination, applicants can register with their respective provincial licensing college.
Where do dental hygienists work?
Generally, dental hygienists work alongside dentists (general practitioners or specialists) in providing oral care to their patients. With experience and additional training, they may also conduct screening procedures of patients including assessment of oral health conditions, review their oral health history, examine for oral cancer, and perform dental charting.
Dental hygienists are responsible for cleaning teeth (e.g., removing stains and plaque) and the application of fluoride.
They also take and develop radiographs or X-rays, provide oral education to patients, and provide diet and healthy nutritional counselling.
Salaries and demographic information
Dental hygienists earn an average of $24.88 per hour in Canada (Technical Occupations in Dental Health Care, according to the National Occupational Classification), which is above the national average of $18.07.
The employment outlook in this field is considered good and the majority of dental hygienists are women.
In Alberta, their average salary was $69,900 in 2004, while part-time or full-time workers overall earned between $31,800 to $122,200 per year.
For more information regarding a career in dental hygiene, please visit The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association website.