How to Become a Dental HygienistOverview Skills, Knowledge and Attributes Training & Certification Career Paths Work Environment Compensation F.A.Q Explore Courses
How to Become a Dental Hygienist
Last updated: May 2, 2023
The dental hygiene field is one of the fastest growing job markets in Canada today as the population ages and preventative dental care becomes more and more of a priority. In addition to excellent job security, dental hygienists are highly compensated for their work and often enjoy flexible schedules resulting in better work-life balance. Plus, dental hygienists enjoy a wide range of duties and responsibilities focused on oral health beyond cleaning teeth. For example, they assess for gum disease and other oral issues, as well as educate clients on preventative dental care.
Below you’ll find everything you need to know about how to become a dental hygienist including: the skills, knowledge and personal attributes that are in high-demand; the training needed to get into the profession; the sort of work opportunities and working conditions to expect; and the best learning opportunities across Canada.
Skills, Knowledge and Attributes
Unlike dental assistants who act as an immediate aid to the dentist, dental hygienists perform more advanced tasks and have more autonomy working one-on-one with clients.
For starters, dental hygienists will assess and record the overall oral condition of their clients. They take dental impressions and clean teeth with scaling and polishing techniques, in addition to examining the teeth and gums for irregularities or decay. They take x-rays, apply fluoride and other treatments, and are responsible for accurately updating patient records. In some provinces, dental hygienists are able to perform basic oral exams on clients too.
In medical emergencies, the dental hygienist may also help the dentist in administering emergency drugs and oxygen supply.
Dental hygienists should have excellent hand-eye coordination, dexterity and motor skills. They should be organized and adept at problem-solving. Given that most of their daily tasks involve interacting and educating clients, good communication skills are a must. Having empathy is also important as dental hygienists will sometimes need to comfort or counsel clients who are nervous about dental procedures. (According to WebMD, dental phobia is a more serious condition than anxiety.)
Training & Certification
Individuals must earn a diploma or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from an accredited college, university or private post-secondary institution. Graduates must pass the National Dental Hygiene Certification Exam. To practise in Canada, dental hygienists must be registered or licensed by the regulatory authority in their province or territory. Currently, the entry-to-practice in all provinces is at the diploma level.
Program curriculum typically focuses on oral and clinical science, as well as health promotion and prevention strategies. Programs also consist of work placements, on-campus dental clinics and other hands-on, experiential learning methods that provide practical experience working with clients in various dental settings.
The length of time needed to become a dental hygienist depends on career goals and the level of training desired. A dental hygiene diploma typically takes 18 months to two years, while a bachelor’s degree may take up to four years. A Master’s degree will require an addition one to two years to complete.
Develop the knowledge, skills, and judgement needed to become a self-regulated health professional. A large part of your training will include hands-on clinical practice. Students work with clients from the community on-site in Canadore’s Dental Hygiene Clinic, where they offer … Continue reading →
This program prepares students to practice as primary oral health care providers in a variety of practice environments, including clinical, education, health promotion and research. Dental hygienists are preventive specialists who provide oral health services based on scientific knowledge and … Continue reading →
The Dental Hygiene program prepares students to practice as primary oral health care providers. This three-year program focuses on developing interpersonal communication skills and professionalism while applying the dental hygiene process of care. Emphasis is placed on preparing students to … Continue reading →
Dental hygienists provide specialized health care in the dynamic field of dentistry. Dental hygiene blends the arts of health advocacy, technology, science, psychology and direct patient care. Join our team and be at the forefront of a career in health … Continue reading →
The Dental Hygiene program prepares future dental hygienists to become leaders in the promotion of oral health. Integrating academic studies and clinical practice, the program prepares you to practice with the client and the community, providing collaborative oral health care … Continue reading →
The three-year Dental Hygiene Ontario College Advanced Diploma program, delivered over two and half years, combines theory and hands-on skills to prepare you for a challenging and rewarding career in preventive dental health care. It allows you to fulfil the … Continue reading →
The practice of dental hygiene is “the assessment of teeth and adjacent tissues, treatment by preventive and therapeutic means, and the provision of restorative and orthodontic procedures and services” (DHA, 1991). Students will be prepared to provide oral health care … Continue reading →
Some dental hygienists are employed by dentists, while others are self-employed and split their time between several clinics. There are also mobile dental hygiene clinics so dental hygienists can see clients in residential care facilities, community health centres, prisons or other locations.
Dental hygienists with a bachelor’s or a master’s degree have additional career options. For instance, they may teach dental assisting and dental hygiene students in universities and colleges. They can also manage dental practices as well as healthcare facilities, or administer community-based and public health programs.
Most dental hygienists work in a clinical practice/dental office with a dentist(s), dental assistants and administrative staff. They wear personal protective gear, including face masks, gloves and safety glasses to avoid contracting infections.
The profession often allows for flexible schedules, with full- or part-time hours. Outside of private dental offices, dental hygienists can work in public health clinics, long-term care facilities, hospitals and prisons. Staff size in dental clinics is often small, resulting in a close-knit working environment.
The average dental hygienist in Canada earns $83,863 per year or $40.98 per hour. With just two years of full-time study required to earn a diploma, dental hygiene programs represent one of the best returns on investment of any educational program in Canada.
Compensation does vary, however, by city. Here are the highest paying cities for dental hygienists across Canada:
Rosalind Stefanac is a writer and editor who is passionate about sharing Canadian healthcare stories and successes. A former editor of Pharmacy Practice + Business, an award-winning national journal for pharmacists, she now writes for a variety of healthcare magazines and websites geared to consumers and healthcare providers. She has also written for business publications such as Financial Post Magazine and the Report on Business.