Dental hygienist

A dental hygienist or oral hygienist is a licensed dental professional, registered with a dental association or regulatory body within their country of practice. Prior to completing clinical and written board examinations, registered dental hygienists must have either an Associate's or Bachelor's degree in Dental Hygiene from an accredited college or university. Once registered, hygienists are primary healthcare professionals who work independently of or alongside dentists and other dental professionals to provide full oral health care. They have the training and education that focus on and specialize in the prevention and treatment of many oral disease.

Dental hygienists have a specific scope of clinical procedures they provide to their patients. They assess a patient's condition in order to offer patient-specific preventative and educational services to promote and maintain good oral health. The major role of a dental hygienist is to perform periodontal therapy which includes things such periodontal charting, periodontal debridement (scaling and root planing), prophylaxis (preventing disease) or periodontal maintenance procedures for patients with periodontal disease. The use of therapeutic methods assists their patients in controlling oral disease, while providing tailored treatment plans that emphasize the importance of behavioral changes .[1] Some dental hygienists are licensed to administer local anesthesia and perform dental radiography.[2] Dental hygienists are also the primary resource for oral cancer screening and prevention.[3] In addition to these procedures, hygienists may take intraoral radiographs, apply dental sealants, administer topical fluoride, and provide patient-specific oral hygiene instruction.[4] Additionally, they can perform many tasks related to orthodontia, such as selecting and sizing of orthodontic bands for dental braces and the removal of orthodontic appliances. They are also able to make dental impressions for the construction of study casts and mouth guards.[1]

Dental hygienists work in a range of dental settings, from independent, private, or specialist practices to the public sector. They can also work in residential aged care facilities.[5][6] Dental hygienists work together with other dental professionals, with a higher number working at general practices with dentists, dental therapists and oral health therapists. A smaller number work at specialist practices alongside orthodontists and periodontists. They help with the contribution of an interdisciplinary approach, aiming to provide optimum oral health care to their patients. Dental hygienists also aim to work inter-professionally to provide holistic oral health care in the best interest of their patient. Dental hygienists also offer expertise in their field and can provide a dental hygiene diagnosis, which is an integral component of the comprehensive dental diagnosis.[7]

Dental Hygienists may also serve as researchers and as educators in dental hygiene programs.

Treatment phases of periodontal therapy

Periodontal therapy is a continuous cycle requiring regular evaluation and maintenance to optimise treatment outcomes. The treatment is normally carried out by a dental hygienist or oral health therapist, but involves all members of the dental team and can include specialists throughout the course of care. There are six phases undertaken by dental professionals when undertaking periodontal therapy, which are as follows;[8]

Systemic pre-phase

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • A full review of the patient's medical history to identify the patient's systemic health, as well as establishing a provisional diagnosis. The provisional diagnosis is generated following a comprehensive oral examination, data collection and radiographic interpretation.
  • An ASA physical status classification system is used to indicate future treatment options for the patient, while considering the implications of risk factors, such as medical conditions (i.e. endocarditis, diabetes, smoking). This also allows the dental clinician to begin planning all non-surgical therapy.
  • All emergency treatment should be addressed first, this includes emergency periodontal treatment;[8]
  • The patients compliance should be established during this phase as optimal oral hygiene practices need to be employed in order to assist with treatment planning and, long-term goals and results;[8]

Initial phase: non-surgical periodontal therapy

Non-surgical periodontal therapy is concerned primarily with disease prevention, and is accomplished through patient and clinician cooperative interaction. It is normally accomplished with the incorporation of patient education and motivational interviewing, and if appropriate may include discussions regarding nutrition and smoking cessation.[8] The various treatments involved in this phase include:

  • Debridement
  • Antimicrobial therapy
  • Correction of local risk factors
  • Fluoride therapy
  • Caries control and placement of temporary restorations
  • Occlusal therapy
  • Minor orthodontic treatment

If disease is present, secondary prevention may be necessary, the cause of disease should be identified and noted, and the relevant professional movement should be identified and patient instruction for dental plaque control established in an attempt to reinstate a healthy oral condition. Therefore, mechanical and chemical plaque control are involved in this phase. This may be via:

  • Plaque disclosing agents
  • Manual or electric toothbrushes
  • Tooth brushing techniques
  • Inter-dental aids
  • Dentifrices
  • Chemical plaque control (antimicrobial mouthwashes)

Re-evaluation of non-surgical periodontal therapy

This phase is continuous throughout treatment, allowing the dental professional along with the patient to monitor the patients oral health status and assists in recognizing the need for change or amendment to the previously formulated treatment plan, according to the patients specific needs.[8] Treatment is monitored using accurate periodontal charting and clinical observation of hard and soft tissues by the dental professional. The results of the periodontal charting and clinical observation dictates what follows the non-surgical periodontal phase. The three generalized outcomes that may result are essentially:

  • The patient progresses straight to the maintenance phase
  • The patient returns to the non-surgical periodontal therapy phase, until such a time as their periodontal status is satisfactory
  • The patent advances to the corrective phase

Corrective phase: surgical periodontal therapy

The corrective phase is not needed for all patients, but is dictated by the outcomes of the re-evaluation phase, encompassing all indicated:[8]

Supportive periodontal therapy and restorative therapy

As with the corrective phase, supportive periodontal therapy is not needed for all patients, but is too dictated by the outcomes of the re-evaluation phase. It includes all required:

A re-evaluation of the overall response to treatment should be conducted at the end of this phase before continuing onto the maintenance phase.

Maintenance phase

The maintenance phase involves continuous care, at patient specific levels. It includes all measures used by the dental team and patient to stop the disease reoccurring, with the objective of keeping the dentition functioning for was long as possible in the oral cavity.[8]

History of dental hygienist

  • In the late 1800s dental disease prevention methods became popular amongst dentists and dental nurses, with dentists being trained to perform routine prophylaxis treatment in the fight against dental disease. During this period D. D. Smith of Philadelphia demonstrated the prophylactic methods to his colleagues and patients and the acceptance of his theories become increasingly popular.[9]
  • In 1898 Smith presented a lecture on his system of periodic oral prophylaxis, which required patients to attend regular visits for prophylactic treatment and education sessions around oral home care.[9]
  • In 1906 one of his followers Alfred C. Fones took a great interest into Smith’s theories and began to train his cousin, Irene Newman, to act as an apprentice, scaling and polishing teeth as well as giving instructions on how to keep their mouths clean with daily home care practices. She was then to become the first recognized dental hygienist.[9]
  • In 1910 the Ohio College of Dental Surgery offered a formal course for dental nurses. However, dentists in Ohio strongly opposed the formal training school, and those who completed the coursework were never allowed to practice. The course was soon to be discontinued in 1914 due to the backlash from the dental community.[9]
  • In 1913 the term dental hygienist was devised and Alfred Fones began the first school for dental hygienists in Connecticut[9]
  • 1914 the first legal dental hygienists graduated from Dr. Fones’ dental hygiene program and legally allowed to provide patients with prophylaxis treatment.
  • In 1915 Connecticut amended the dental practice act to include the regulation of dental hygienists and other states followed amending dental hygiene regulations outlining the scope of practice of a dental hygienist.[9]
  • 1923 the first meeting of the American Dental Hygienist Association took place [9]
  • 1939 There were 8,000 dental hygienists in the USA[10]
  • 1950 Dental hygienists were recogni[z]ed in Canada and the University of Toronto established the first dental hygiene program in the country.[11]
  • 1965 The first male Jack Orio graduated from The University of New Mexico [10]
  • 1965 over 15,400 dental hygienists were working in America [9]
  • 1974 Dental hygienists were employed by the government of New Zealand to treat members of the New Zealand army.[12]
  • 1975 Dental hygiene profession was introduced in Australia.[13]
  • 1980 There were 204 dental hygiene programs across America[14]
  • 1988 The Journal of Dental Hygiene celebrates 75 years of commitment to care[15]
  • 1994 dental hygienists in New Zealand to work publicly and privately.[12]
  • 2006 Auckland University of Technology Bachelor of Health Science (Oral Health):3years (dual-degree in Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy)[12]

Global oral hygiene education and legislation timeline

First Year of Training First Year of Legislation of Practice No. of programs in 2001
USA 1913 1907ȸ 1917† 234
Norway 1923 1979 3
Canada 1951 1947ȸ 1952† 27
Japan 1948‡ 1951 1948 125
United Kingdom 1954 1954 19
Nigeria 1961 1993 none
R. of Korea 1965 1973 27
The Netherlands 1968 1974 4
Sweden 1968 1991 9
Denmark 1972 1986 2
South Africa 1972 1969 6
Switzerland 1973 1975§ 1991§ 4
Australia 1975 1972 5
Finland 1976 1972 2
Italy 1978 1988 17
Israel 1979 1978 3
Iceland Educ. Abroad 1978 none
China (Hong Kong) 1996 1969
India (भारत) 1972 1972 NA
  • ȸLegal recognition of profession in first State or Province.
  • †First license issued.
  • ‡First training at US Allied Headquarters.
  • §For selected cantons first; in 1991 for all cantons.

[9] [12] [16] [17]



Dental hygienists in Australia must be graduates from a dental hygiene program, with either an advanced diploma (TAFE), associate degree, or more commonly a bachelor's degree from a dental hygiene school that is accredited by the Australian Dental Council (ADC).[18]

In Australia it is a legal requirement for dental hygienists/ oral health therapist graduates to be registered with the Dental Board of Australia before practising their scope in periodontology in any state or territory in Australia.[19]

The Dental Hygienists’ Association of Australia (DHAA) Inc., established in 1975, is the peak body representing registered dental hygiene service providers in Australia. A dental hygienist does not need to be employed by a dentist but can independently assess patients and make treatment plans within their scope of practice whilst working in the community. Practising as an autonomous decision maker, and working within the scope of only what they are "formally" trained in. The National Law requires the same level of professional responsibility from dental hygienists, oral health therapists and dental therapists as it does from dentists, dental specialists and dental prosthetists in that all practitioners must have their own professional indemnity insurance and radiation licences. They are also required to complete 60 hours of mandatory continuing professional development in a three-year cycle.[20][21]

A Bachelor of Oral Health is the most common degree program. Students entering a bachelor's degree program are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Most Bachelor of Oral Health programs now qualify students as both dental hygienists and dental therapists, collectively known as oral health therapists.[22]


Dental hygienists in Canada must have completed a diploma program, which can take from 19 months to 3 years to complete. All dental hygiene students must pass a NDHCB (NDHCB) examination after graduation. This examination is offered three times per year, January, May and September. Three universities in Canada offer Bachelor of Science degrees in Dental Hygiene: Dalhousie University, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia.

Dental hygiene across Canada is a well-respected career with many opportunities. These possibilities include working in clinical, administration, education, research and public health positions. The wages vary throughout the country; from approximately $32 per hour in some areas to as high as $55 per hour in others. A surplus of new dental hygiene graduates in recent years has resulted in a decrease in wages in some regions.

Some of the downfalls to practicing in different provinces are the different regulations. For instance, in BC, the hygienist cannot provide treatment without the patient receiving a dental exam in the previous 365 days unless the practicing hygienist has an extended duty module (resident-care module). In AB, BC, MB and SK, hygienists also administer local anesthesia if qualified to do so. In Ontario, dental hygienists may take further training to become a restorative dental hygienist. Registered dental hygienists must register every year by December 31. Ontario dental hygienists must also prove continuing competence by maintaining a professional portfolio yearly. In Ontario, dental hygienists are registered with the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario (CDHO). [23]

Dental hygienists in BC, ON, NS and AB are able to open their own private clinics and practice without a dentist on staff.

New Zealand

Since 2006,[12] New Zealand dental hygienists are trained at either University of Otago in Dunedin (at the country's only Dental School) or at Auckland University of Technology.[24] The qualifications (Bachelor of Oral Health at Otago, Bachelor of Health Science in Oral Health at AUT) enable graduates to register and practise as both a dental hygienist and a dental therapist.[12]

Prior to this, dental hygienists were first domestically trained in 1974 for use in the New Zealand Defence Force. The one-year course was taught by the Royal New Zealand Dental Corp at the Burnham army base outside Christchurch.[12] Hygiene training was briefly offered at the Wellington School for Dental Nurses in 1990 as 2 week a supplement to Dental Therapy students training.[12] However, this was quickly discontinued.[12]

The first independent non-military training began in 1994.[12] Otago Polytechnic began offering a 15-month Certificate in Dental Hygiene in Dunedin.[12] In 1998, the programme was modified to be a 2-year Diploma.[12] Otago Polytech stopped offering the course in 2000.[12] The following year, University of Otago began offering a 2-year Diploma in Dental Hygiene qualification.[12] In 2002, the university added a 3-year Bachelor of Health Sciences (endorsed in Dental Hygiene) degree alongside the Diploma.[12] This course was discontinued in 2007, when the current 3 year Bachelor of Oral Health commenced.[12]

In order to practise, all hygienists must annually register with the Dental Council.[25] For the 2014-2015 cycle, the cost of this is $669.07.[26] One hygienist is represented on the Council for a three-year term.[27]

Dental hygienists can become members of the New Zealand Dental Hygienists' Association.[28] The association was founded in 1993,[29] and is affiliated with the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.[30]

United States

Dental hygienists in the United States must be graduates from a dental hygiene program, with either an associate degree (most common), a certificate, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree from a dental hygienist school that is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA).[31]

All dental hygienists in the United States must be licensed by the state in which they practice, after completing a minimum of two years of school and passing a written board known as the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination as well as a clinical board exam. After completing these exams and licenses, dental hygienists may use "R.D.H" after their names to signify that they are a registered dental hygienist.[32][33] Dental hygienists also have to become licensed in the state in which they intend to practice. State licensure requirements vary, however most states require an associate degree in Dental Hygiene, successful completion of a state licensure examination, as well as a clinical examination also typically administered by the state.

Dental hygienists school programs usually require both general education courses and courses specific to the field of dental hygiene. General education courses important to dental hygiene degrees include college level algebra, biology, and chemistry. Courses specific to dental hygiene may include anatomy, oral anatomy, materials science, pharmacology, radiography, periodontology, nutrition, and clinical skills.

A Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene is typically a four-year program. Students entering a bachelor's degree program are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent, but many dental hygienists with an associate degree or certification enter the bachelor's degree programs to expand their clinical expertise and help advance their careers.

Graduate degrees in the field of dental hygiene are typically two-year programs and are completed after the bachelor's degree. Common graduate courses in dental hygiene include Healthcare Management, Lab Instruction, and Clinical Instruction.

In addition, the American Dental Hygienists' Association has defined a more advanced level of dental hygiene, the Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner otherwise known as a dental therapist.

Dental hygienist students perform practical oral examinations free of charge at some institutions which have expressed a shortage in recent years.[34]

Direct access to care with a dental hygienist

The dental hygienists in some parts of North America can provide oral hygiene treatment based on the assessment of a patient’s needs without the authorization of a dentist, treat the patient in absence of a dentist, and also maintain a provider-patient relationship.


The Dental Hygienist Course in India is a full-time 2-year diploma course. The Dental Hygienist course is regulated and controlled by the Dental Council of India. After completion of the course a dental hygienist should be register with a state dental council. Any person who is a registered dental hygienist in a one state may practice as such in any other. The Federation of Indian Dental Hygienists Association (FIDHA)is the primary national body representing the dental hygienist profession in India, however some state dental hygienist associations also work at state level. In India, dental hygienists do not need to be employed by a dentist but can have their own clinic.


British Columbia

1995 - A client must have seen a dentist within the previous 365 days in order for the hygienist to provide dental hygiene treatment.

2012 - New bylaws offers an exemption from the 365-day rule if hygienists are registered in the Full Registration (365 Day Rule Exempt) class.[35]


2006 - Dental hygienists are able to offer their services in many practice settings including independent practice.[36]


2008 - If the dental hygienist has practiced for more than 3000 hours, and the client does not have a complex medical condition then the hygienists do not require the supervision of a dentist. [37]


2007 - Registered dental hygienists in Ontario who have been approved by the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario can practice independently.[38]

United States


1998 - Registered dental hygienist in alternative practice (RDHAP): RDHAPs may provide services for homebound persons or at residential facilities, schools, institutions and in dental health professional shortage areas without the supervision of a dentist. RDHAPs can provide patient care for up to 18 months and longer if the patient obtains a prescription for additional oral treatment from a dentist or physician .[39]


1987 - Unsupervised practice: Hygienists may have their own dental hygiene practice; there are no requirement for the authorization or supervision of a dentist for most services. Colorado is currently the only state where this is approved. Case was won by JoAnn Grant, a dental hygienist from Fort Collins, CO. [40]


1999 - Public health dental hygienist: dental hygienists may practice without supervision in institutions, public health facilities, group homes, and schools as long as they have two years of work experience.[41]


2008 - Independent practice dental hygienist: A dental hygienist licensed with an independent practice may work without the supervision of a dentist, providing that the dental hygienist has to complete 2,000 work hours of clinical practice during the two years prior to applying for an independent license, as well as a bachelor's degree from a CODA accredited dental hygiene program or complete 6,000 work hours of clinical practice during the six years prior to applying for an independent license, as well as an associate degree from a CODA accredited dental hygiene program. [42]


2005 - PA 161 Dental hygienist: hygienists with grantee status can work in a public or nonprofit environment, a school or nursing home that administers dental care to a low-income population. Dentists collaborating with dental hygienists do not need to be present to authorize or administer treatment. However, dental hygienists must have the availability to communicate with a dentist in order to review patient records and establish emergency protocols. Hygienists need to apply to the state department of community health for grantee status.[43]


1984 - Unsupervised practice: dental hygienist practice without the supervision of a dentist is allowed in hospitals, group homes, nursing homes, home health agencies, Health and Human Service state institutions, jails, and public health facilities as long as the hygienist refers their patients to a dentist for treatment. Hygienists must have at least two years of work experience within the last 5 years.[44]

Notable dental hygienist

See also

Further reading


  1. 1 2 Dental Hygienists' Association of Australia Inc. (1999). A professional Body Addressing Training, Uniformity of Practice and Growth of the Dental Hygienist Profession. Retrieved from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-05-18. Retrieved 2014-05-17. Print. Local dental regulations determine the scope of practice of dental hygienists respectively
  2. "Response to the Dental Board of Australia's Preliminary Consultation on the Draft Scope of Practice Registration Standard and Guidelines". Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  3. "Be part of the change". Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral Cancer Foundation. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  4. "American Dental Association-Dental Hygienist- Job Description". Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  5. Australian Dental Association. "Dental Hygienist". Australian Dental Association. Archived from the original on 25 February 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  6. "Dental Hygienist". American Dental Association. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  7. American Dental Hygienists' Association - Standards of Practice Archived 2012-11-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 , J. and D. Willmann, Eds. (2008). Foundations of Periodontics for the Dental Hygienist.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Danner, V. "Looking back at 75 years of the Journal; former editors reflect on their time with the Journal". Journal of Dental Hygiene. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  10. 1 2 Marsh, Lynn. "Dimensions of Dental Hygiene". The Journal of Professional Excellent Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. Mrs Lynn Marsh. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  11. Johnson, Patricia M. "International profiles of dental hygiene 1987 to 2006: a 21-nation comparative study" (PDF). International Dental Journal. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Coats, Dawn E. "Dental Therapists and Dental Hygienists Educated for the New Zealand Environment" (PDF). International Dental Journal. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  13. "Dental Board of Australia - Registration Standards". Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  14. Burt and Eklund, Brian and Steven. Dentistry, Dental Practice, and the Community (6 ed.). Brian A. Burt, Steven A. Eklund.
  15. Danner, Valerie. "Journal of Dental Hygiene". Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  16. Johnson, D.L.; Karkut, R.T. (October 1994). "Performance by gender in a stop-smoking program combining hypnosis and aversion". Psychological reports. 75 (2): 851–7. doi:10.2466/pr0.1994.75.2.851. PMID 7862796.
  17. "Dental Board of Australia - Registration Standards". Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  18. "Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Approved Programs of study". Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  19. "Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Accreditation Standards". Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  20. "Dental Board of Australia - Guidelines on continuing professional development". Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  21. , The Dental Hygienists’ Association of Australia Inc. June 2013 ‘’’Response to the Dental Board of Australia’s Preliminary Consultation on the Draft Scope of Practice Registration Standard and Guidelines.’’’ Pages 2-12
  22. "Dental Board of Australia - Oral Health Therapist". Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  23. CDH BC Archived 2014-05-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. "Careers NZ: Dental Hygienist: How to enter the job". 25 Jun 2013. Archived from the original on 2014-10-23. Retrieved 24 Oct 2014.
  25. "Dental Council of New Zealand: Apply for an annual practising certificate". 2014. Retrieved 24 Oct 2014.
  26. "Dental Council of New Zealand: Fees for dental hygienists". 2014. Archived from the original on 24 October 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  27. "Dental Council of New Zealand: Council members". 2014. Retrieved 24 Oct 2014.
  28. "New Zealand Dental Hygienists' Association: About us". Retrieved 24 Oct 2014.
  29. "New Zealand Dental Hygienists' Association: Welcome to NZDHA". Retrieved 24 Oct 2014.
  30. "International Federation of Dental Hygienists: Association Members". 2014. Retrieved 24 Oct 2014.
  31. "Education & Careers - ADHA - American Dental Hygienists Association".
  32. "Dental Hygienist License Information".
  33. "Dental Hygienist Education and Training Requirements".
  34. "Want a Free Teeth Cleaning? School of Dentistry Dental Hygiene Students Need You".
  35. "Dental Hygiene". Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  36. "Dental Hygienists Profession Regulation". Alberta Queen's Printer. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  37. "The Dental Hygienists Act". Statutory Publications. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  38. "Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council" (PDF). Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  39. "RDHAP Application Instructions". Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  40. "Direct Access States" (PDF). ADHA. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  41. "20 Professional and Occupational Licensing, Certification, Title Protection and Registration". Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  42. "Public Laws". Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  43. "Public Health Code Excerpt". Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  44. "Washington State Legislator". Retrieved 1 April 2014.
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