Dental hygienists are an important part of the health family of the UK. Most dental hygienists will at least do most or at least some of their work as part of dental contracts with the National Health Service (NHS). The role of dental hygienists has been developing for over a century. For example, they were originally assistants to dentists, but are now health practitioners in their own right. A shortage of dental hygienists in recent years means the position is increasingly well-paid and well-regarded.
What Does a Dental Hygienist Do
Dental hygienists are experts in oral health. This means they advise on oral health. In other words, you would treat tooth decay and gum disease. The key work of a dental hygienist is to clean teeth and evaluate the patient’s mouth for any symptoms of dental disorders. Other functions a dental hygienist undertakes will include:
- Screening patients for pain or dental concerns.
- Teeth scaling and root planing.
- Administering anaesthetic under the supervision of a dentist.
- Taking x-rays.
- Offering oral hygiene instruction to patients and encouraging good oral health. This could be done by demonstrating tooth brushing and flossing.
- Removing plaque from and polishing patients’ teeth.
- Evaluating and updating each patient’s dental history.
- Acting as the primary resource in detecting oral cancers.
- Checking and maintaining patient records.
Who Employs Dental Hygienists
In most circumstances, dental hygienists in the UK work within dental practices. These dental practices are private businesses. Some of them just work privately. In other words, all the patients pay their own fees for their dental work. Most dental practices offer at least some dental services to the public through the National Health Service (NHS) dental contract. This means they are paid for by health authorities and they have to work to certain levels with the public. The majority of jobs a dental hygienist does through an NHS dental contract will be delivered free to the public. Dental practices can be wholly private, wholly NHS-funded, or a mixture of both. The profit of a dental practice is shared between the senior people who own the dental practice. This will always include dentists but dental hygienists can also be part owners of dental practices. Very experienced dental hygienists can expect to be able to buy into a dental practice so that they own part of the business. Dental hygienists can also be directly employed by health authorities or employed by hospitals. These types of dental hygienists will be classified as public-sector workers.
Job Salary for a Dental Hygienist
The official UK Government statistics on the job salary for a dental hygienist in a dental surgery (not hospital) places the starting wage at £27,055, which rises to £40,588 for experienced dental hygienists. Another source estimates the average dental hygienist’s salary in the UK to be £60,630.37. This is based on a recorded minimum of £22,693 and a maximum salary of £82,160. Some other figures are useful to allow you to compare salaries. In the UK, the national average wage is estimated to be around £30,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current National Living Wage (which must be paid to people aged 23 and over) means the minimum untaxed income for a 40-hour week is over £21,000 per year. As with other jobs, there are significant regional differences in the salary of a dental Hygienist in different parts of the UK. Dental Hygienists in London and the South East of England are, like other professions, paid more than in other parts of the UK.
How Often is a Dental Hygienist Normally Paid
Dental Hygienists can normally expect to be paid a salary every month. If they are shareholders in the dental practice they can also expect to be paid dividends based on the profit of the practice.
Who Negotiates a Job Salary for a Dental Hygienist
Salaries are agreed upon between the dental practice and the individual dental hygienist. Dental hygienists working in or from dental surgeries rather than the NHS are not covered by NHS pay and conditions.
What Sort of Contracts Do Dental Hygienists Have
Dental Hygienists tend to have a permanent contract which is clear about hours and rates of pay. These contracts will also specify overtime rates.
Your potential earning potential and career progression in dental hygiene is linked to experience within dental teams. It is a well-paid role. This is because in recent years there has been a shortage of dental hygienists. This shortage has directly impacted on raising the amount of money which a dental hygienist can charge for their work. Very experienced dental hygienists can expect to be able to buy into a dental practice so that they own part of the business. Others can end up as practice managers.
How to Become a Dental Hygienist
Understanding the educational and training requirements to become a dental hygienist is important if you want to become one. Dental hygienists have to be properly qualified and need to have undertaken a university course. University courses in dental hygiene tend to last between two and four years. A smaller number of dental hygienists reach this role through experience gained in an apprenticeship.
Qualifications/Courses – Dental Hygienist
There are different options for studying at university in order to become a dental hygienist. To qualify you have a range of options of specialism and detail. Specifically, the three options are a foundation degree, a higher national diploma or a degree. A foundation degree takes around two years. However, a full degree usually takes four years to attain. All three of these degrees need to be on a specific topic related to dental hygiene. So you will need to study oral health science, dental hygiene or dental therapy. To get into a university to study dental hygiene the set entry requirements are:
- 1 or 2 A levels, or equivalent, for a foundation degree or higher national diploma
- 2 to 3 A levels, or equivalent, for a degree
Some people who apply for a university course already have some experience as a dental nurse. Another route into the profession is via an apprenticeship. This will be either:
- Dental Nurse (Integrated) Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship.
- Oral Health Practitioner Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship (aimed at people already working in dental care and registered with the General Dental Council),
Both of these will options will also need further training in dental hygiene to become a registered dental hygienist. Common entry requirements for a dental hygiene apprenticeship include 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels for a higher or degree apprenticeship; and 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent for an advanced apprenticeship.
Registering as a Dental Hygienist
All dental hygienists need to register with the General Dental Council (GDC) in the UK. This must be done to work either for the NHS or in private practice. The GDC regulates the professional conduct of dentists. Additionally, the GDC also approves the quality of courses at all universities for dental hygienists. If you follow this career route, you will need to take a course approved by the GDC so that you can then register with the GDC. Further, you can register with the GDC even if you are between jobs as a dental hygienist.
General Skills Required
- A dental hygienist must have the willingness to learn about human anatomy and oral disease. You must be prepared to keep learning about new issues in dentistry throughout your working lives.
- Excellent communication skills are needed. This is because you will be working with a wide variety of different people from different walks of life. Additionally, you will usually be working with a wide variety of ages,
- You will need tact and honesty in dealing with clients. But also it is important to be able to judge the right way to communicate with a wide variety of different people.
- You will also need to be able to put patients at their ease and gain their confidence. For example, you must have the ability to work sensitively and constructively with patient fears.
- A steady hand is needed in order to make sure dental treatment is delivered accurately. This includes not causing undue pain to patients.
- Thoroughness and attention to detail is required.
- Good managerial and administrative skills are essential in managing part of a dental practice.
- Being a good team player with the dental team is essential. This means having the ability to work constructively with others carrying out aligned tasks in oral healthcare.
- Some computer literacy is needed. This is because you will be expected to record information relating to patients.
- Confidentiality relating to patient records.
- Good time-keeping in order to get through your allocated appointments.
- A clean Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is required for people who wish to work as dental hygienists. This is because you will be working with children or vulnerable adults.
Mechanical Skills Required
Dental hygienists will need to be able to operate dental hygiene apparatus. This will include x-ray machines located in dental practices.
Challenges of Being a Dental Hygienist
- Oral health care is challenging for all professionals involved. Maintaining a professional outlook which treats the public with respect is essential. This means that no matter how difficult a person is being they must always be treated with respect.
- Dental hygiene is often repetitive work.
- You will need to maintain knowledge of new and emerging health conditions.
- You will also usually need to wear protective clothing and a uniform.
- Exposure to unpleasant sights and smells is part of the job.
Type of Person Suited for this Work
- A person with a commitment to the values of the NHS.
- Someone with a patient outlook. This means you have the ability to deal with stress.
- A team player who can work to direction and also direct others.
General Expected Working Hours
Dental practices are open between roughly 8 am and 6 pm from Monday to Friday. A dental hygienist can be expected to work around forty hours a week. Dental practices will usually be closed at weekends and on Bank Holidays. However, there may be occasional evening work or weekend work required.
Location of Work
The majority of dental hygienists work in a community or private dental office. To be accessible, these offices are usually located in high street locations. However, they are sometimes also in health centres. Dental hygienists can also sometimes be found in larger hospitals. All of these will have a specific dental department. Additionally, some dental hygienists also visit schools occasionally. A small number join the army or Royal Air Force as armed forces dentists.
Larger dental practices will have more than one dental hygienist. Because of this there is potential for promotion within the team. Further, there are also some aligned professions which experienced dental hygienists sometimes go on to do:
- Dental teacher: Working in a university to teach and support oral health students is a career option. This is a path which some dental hygienists follow.
- Dental hygienist researchers: A dental hygienist researcher conducts research and interprets results related to oral health. They do this because they try to better understand common dental conditions and diseases. Additionally, people interested in working as dental hygienist researchers will need more study. To take this route you will typically need to complete a master’s degree in dental hygiene. Alternatively, you can advance by having significant experience in private dentistry practice.
- Public health planner: Health authorities in different parts of the UK will have a range of public health responsibilities including oral health. For example, a public health planner or advocate with a background in dental hygiene will focus on educating the public on proper oral health techniques. Additionally, they will also play a role in planning dental provision across a geographic area.
- Paediatric dental hygienist: As this form of dental hygienist you will work mainly with children and teens. They complete all dental hygiene duties. However, they are specialised in one age group.