The Role of a Dental Hygienist

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The Role of a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists are crucial members of the healthcare sector in Australia. Also known as oral health therapists, they’re trained dental professionals with a primary focus on dental disease prevention.

Working in consultation or under the supervision of a dentist, a dental hygienist helps deliver a tailored treatment for each patient. This usually involves techniques to keep the teeth and gums healthy. Their aim is to help their patients prevent common chronic conditions such as gingivitis, tooth decay, and plaque build-up.

Being a dental hygienist is a rewarding career, and it’s well-suited to those who have an interest in oral health and a passion for helping people.

Quick Facts About Dental Hygienist Jobs

  • According to Payscale, the average annual salary for a dental hygienist starts at $53,000 and can go up to $120,000 for experienced professionals.
  • Data obtained from the Dental Board of Australia revealed there are 1,481 dental hygienists registered in Australia as of December 2018.
  • Dental hygienists in Australia are required to work within a structured professional relationship with a dentist.

What’s the difference between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant?

Many people outside the industry assume a dental hygienist and dental assistant are interchangeable. However, there are distinct differences that set the two professions apart. While they both work to support the dentist in charge, their duties in the dental clinic differ – and so do the qualifications they possess.

A dental assistant performs both office duties and clinical assistance under direct supervision of the dentist. This can include prepping and sterilising equipment, scheduling appointments, and handing instruments to dentists during procedures. Dental assistant jobs don’t require formal medical training, but a certificate or diploma in dental assisting is a common pre-requisite.

A dental hygienist, on the other hand, has more responsibility and deals with advanced tasks that relate directly to patient care.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Dental Hygienist

These are examples of the typical duties and responsibilities called for in dental hygienist jobs:

  • Educate patients on good oral health practices
  • Performs dental examinations and assess patients’ oral health
  • Maintain accurate and detailed clinical records
  • Professionally clean patients’ teeth, removing stains, plaque, and tartar
  • Assist dental practitioners and specialists with operative procedures
  • Administer and interpret dental x-rays.

Qualifications for Getting into Dental Hygienist Jobs

To work as a dental hygienist in Australia, you’re required to complete a qualification or degree in oral health or oral health therapy. The course must be approved by the Dental Board of Australia. Degrees offered will vary between states, but they will typically take 2-3 years of full-time study to complete.

The Dental Hygienists Association of Australia has a list of the available training courses by state (see below). To become a practising dental hygienist, your qualifications need to be up to date. Some universities also offer the option to study online.

New South Wales


South Australia


Western Australia

Skills Required for Dental Hygienists

Some people are better suited to dental hygienist jobs due to their unique skills. Some of the personal skills required in this field include:

  • High attention to detail
  • Excellent time-management skills
  • Great hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity
  • Good interpersonal skills and ability to interact with a wide range of people
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work as a team

Potential Career Progression

Those interested in advancing their career as a dental hygienist may find the journey isn’t clear-cut. Depending on what career options appeal most to you, there are several paths you could take should you wish to move up the ladder.

  • By completing further education, you can open yourself up to a new range of opportunities. Depending on your preference, this could lead to working in dental hygiene research or even the higher education sector, training students in universities. There are also courses you can complete that allow you to broaden your skillset.
  • If you’re looking for a change of scenery, many dental hygienists opt to move out of dental practices to work in schools and community health clinics.
  • If you want to move out of the field but wish to stay working as an oral health professional, you could consider changing specialties. For a medical position, such as a dentist or orthodontist, this will require additional study.

Take a look at the oral health and dental jobs in Australia to learn more about what’s required of various oral health professions.