Dental Hygienist

What does a Dental Hygienist do?

Dental hygienists provide education and clinical services to promote optimal oral health. They provide treatment to help prevent gum disease, tooth decay and other oral health problems. While they most typically work in private dental offices and clinics, dental hygienists also may find employment in health departments, hospitals, nursing homes, school districts, corporate settings, military services, correctional facilities or dental education facilities. This flexible career allows hygienists to choose to work anywhere from one to five days per week.

Developing a Career as a Dental Hygienist

Responsibilities of dental hygienists include:

  • patient screening procedures, such as review of the health history, dental charting and taking blood pressure, pulse and temperature.
  • administering local anesthesia and nitrous oxide.
  • making and developing dental radiographs (X-rays).
  • removing calculus and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from the teeth.
  • applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g. fluoride and sealants).
  • teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene techniques to maintain and improve oral health.
  • counseling patients regarding good nutrition and its impact on oral health.
  • counseling patients regarding the link of oral health to serious systematic health problems.
  • performing office management duties.
  • performing oral cancer screenings.
  • performing screenings and hygiene examinations for the public.

How much salary do Dental Hygienists make?

Annual Mean Wage

How do I become a Dental Hygienist?

Students intending to pursue a career as a dental hygienist should prepare by taking challenging science, math, pharmacology and nutrition courses. Dental hygienists receive their education through accredited academic programs at community colleges or universities. The majority of community college programs take two years to complete but require prerequisites for entry into the program*, with graduates receiving associate degrees. An associate degree allows the hygienist to become eligible for a state and national licensure examination. University based dental hygiene programs may offer bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees, each requiring at least two additional years of schooling. These advanced degrees are required for careers in teaching, research and public health programs.

In the state of Virginia, dental hygienists must obtain a license from the Board of Dentistry. In order to receive this license, applicants must be graduates of an accredited dental hygiene program, pass the dental hygiene examination given by the Joint Commission on Dental Examinations and pass a clinical examination. License renewal is granted annually upon completion of required continuing education.

*The average associate program requires 88 credit hours for graduation/degree.

Where else can I learn about becoming a Dental Hygienist?

Virginia Dental Hygienists' Association
2201 Wedgwood Avenue
Richmond, VA 23228
(888) 734-8342

American Dental Hygienists’ Association
444 N. Michigan Avenue
Suite 3400
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 440-8900

State Licensure Requirements for Dental Hygienists

A license is required to practice in the state of Virginia. For more information on licensure, applications and forms, visit

Virginia Board of Dentistry
Perimeter Center
9960 Mayland Drive
Suite 300
Henrico, VA 23233-1463
Phone: (804) 367-4538

Find Local Support

Blue Ridge Region AHEC – Shenandoah Valley

Capital Region AHEC – Richmond Metro and surrounding areas

Eastern Virginia Region AHEC – Southeast Virginia and Peninsula

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South Central Region AHEC – Lynchburg, Danville, and surrounding area

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