Dental hygienists and dental therapists (NOC 3222)

About this job

Dental hygienists:

  • perform dental hygiene treatment and provide patients with information related to the prevention of diseases and disorders of the teeth and mouth
  • usually work in private dental offices, hospitals, clinics, educational institutions or government agencies and private industry

Dental therapists:

  • carry out limited dental services related to the prevention and treatment of diseases and disorders of the teeth and mouth
  • usually work for the federal government and the provincial governments to provide services in rural and remote communities.

People in these occupations:

  • should have strong communication and interpersonal skills in order to assess patient needs, explain procedures and put patients at ease
  • should also be well organized, detail-oriented and have the ability to solve problems and make decisions
  • should have a strong back, good eyesight and a high degree of manual dexterity
  • should enjoy working with people and as part of a team
Common job titles
  • hygienist, dental - registered / community
  • hygienist, orthodontic / periodontal
  • nurse, dental
  • technician, dental hygiene
  • therapist, dental - licensed / registered
  • hygienist, dental - registered / community
  • hygienist, orthodontic / periodontal
  • nurse, dental
  • technician, dental hygiene
  • therapist, dental - licensed / registered

Duties

Dental hygienists perform some or all of the following duties:

  • do initial dental assessments and talk to patients about their dental care needs
  • Take dental impressions
  • Clean and stimulate the gums to prevent gum disease
  • remove stains and deposits from teeth to prevent tooth and root decay
  • Apply fluoride treatement
  • take and develop X-rays
  • May perform restorative and orthodontic procedures under the direction of a dentist
  • may supervise dental assistants in their health care functions

The dental therapist profession is not formally recognized as a discipline in B.C. All dental hygienists with full registration can perform the following dental therapy duties:

  • work for Health Canada, providing limited dental services as part of the community health-care team in B.C. First Nations communities without a dentist
  • do dental assessments and speak with dentists about patient care
  • take dental impressions, remove stains and deposits from teeth to prevent root and tooth decay, apply fluoride treatments and take X-rays
  • extract teeth, replace portions of tooth crowns and place steel crowns on primary teeth
  • give local anesthetic, and drill cavities and fill them using tooth-coloured or silver linings
  • instruct individuals and groups on oral health and hygiene procedures and may run community health programs
  • may supervise dental assistants

Work environment

Workers in this occupational group typically work 32–40 hours per week. Those in private practices may work on a part-time schedule or work evenings and weekends.

Most work in clean, well-lit offices. Workers in rural and remote communities may have to travel great distances by vehicle or small plane to reach patients. They may also have to carry heavy equipment and materials for treatment. In the absence of repair services, they may troubleshoot and repair dental equipment.

Workers in these occupations must use sterile techniques and follow proper radiological procedures when taking X-rays. These workers wear safety glasses, masks, gloves and scrubs or lab coats to protect themselves from infectious diseases.

Insights from industry

A growing and aging population will require more dental services, which will result in new job openings for these workers. Job opportunities will also become available due to retirements.

As with many health-care professions, there is a shortage of dental hygienists in rural communities of the province. Increased job opportunities may be available in these areas.

Dental hygienists carry a much broader scope of responsibilities than in the past. They are dental health-care educators who instruct patients in oral hygiene procedures and promote community dental health programs. The role of dental hygienists in areas outside clinical practices, such as community health centres and residential care facilities is expected to increase.

Advances in biomedical sciences and disease patterns continuously change the delivery of dental care. Improvements in many aspects of dental care make it possible for dentists to carry out more complex treatments, which may increase overall demand for dental services.

Career paths and resources

Career paths

Individuals may begin their careers as dental assistants and advance to the position of hygienist or therapist through further education and training.

Dental hygienists who hold a bachelor's degree may undergo advanced education, such as graduate studies in dental science to broaden their career opportunities.

In British Columbia, legislation permits dental hygienists to own and operate their own dental hygiene practices. Registered hygienists may choose to practise as self-employed contractors.

Additional resources