The Truth About Being a Dental Hygienist: An Insider Shares 6 Things You Need to Know
Have you been thinking about becoming a dental hygienist? Caroline, an experienced oral health therapist and hygienist, explains what you need to know before making the leap.
Green Door Dental
Championing the idea that you can have a good career and be a good mum, Caroline has worked as an oral therapist for over 12 years.
In that time, she’s had three children, built a strong rapport with her boss and built a loyal client base, thanks to her warm, professional persona and technical proficiency.
Today, Caroline dives into her career journey, sharing the ins and outs of this role from the inside.
Read on for key need-to-knows about entering this thriving industry.
Table of Contents
- 1 1. Starting as a dental assistant can help you understand the role
- 2 2. On-going training is a non-negotiable
- 3 3. A good work/life balance is possible if you have the right team
- 4 4. Technical skills are just as important as your soft skills
- 5 5. It’s not for the easily disgusted
- 6 6. You make a difference to people’s health and confidence
1. Starting as a dental assistant can help you understand the role
If you’re unsure if the dental field is for you — or perhaps questioning whether you can commit to the study required to become a dental hygienist — you have options. One of these options is working as a dental assistant.
There are no qualification requirements in Australia to work as a dental assistant. This is exactly how Caroline started out.
“Starting off as a dental assistant is definitely a good place to start. You can get a vibe of what it’s like to work in a practice – whether or not it’s a good fit, if you can handle it,” Caroline explains. “I was working at a practice as a dental assistant and saw what the hygienist did.”
Dental assistants are the floaters in a dental practice. In this role, you’ll assist dentists and hygienists during procedures check-ups. You’ll also perform many valuable administrative and workplace health and safety requirements that apply to a dental practice.
Most importantly, however, you’ll get to see first-hand the reality of working as a dental hygienist.
“You might rock up on your first day and think, ‘No way, I can’t handle this!'” Caroline laughs. “If you can stomach all the surgical stuff, you’ll be fine with hygiene.”
2. On-going training is a non-negotiable
As a dental hygienist, you’re expected to constantly develop your knowledge and craft. Why? Because the medical field is continually changing with new methods, techniques and technologies.
Continuing personal development (CPD) is an enforced requirement of all dentists, dental hygienists and dental health specialists by the Dental Board of Australia. This requirement calls for 60 hours of CPD to be completed every three years.
“I try to just look for courses I like,” Caroline says. “I pick courses in areas or topics where I want to increase my knowledge.”
CPD can be conducted in a wide range of topics and specialties, so despite it sounding like a lot of ongoing learning, you can make it as enjoyable as possible by choosing skills and topics that inspire you.
3. A good work/life balance is possible if you have the right team
Working as a dental hygienist can look very different depending on where you work, your colleagues and the business’ work structure. For some, a regular 9-5 is possible — and ideal! For others, however, more flexibility may be required.
For Caroline, flexibility is a must as she continues to raise her three daughters.
“Over the 12 years of working, I’ve been on maternity leave anywhere between six to 12 months at a time and have worked varying days as well.”
What made this possible was Caroline’s relationship with her colleagues and boss.
“Sometimes you have to search around to find the right fit for practice and the right fit of a boss,” Carolie says. “But once you do that, then you can find yourself in a really good team that works well together.”
Of course, maintaining a perfect work/life balance at all times is not possible. However, by taking your time to find a practice that supports and respects your responsibilities outside of work, your workload as a dental hygienist can be shifted to make room for other priorities.
“I want to model to my girls that it’s okay for a woman to have a job – a good job – and commit to that. It’s good, and it’s tough, But I think it can fit in with lifestyle stuff quite easily.”
4. Technical skills are just as important as your soft skills
Communication and people skills are invaluable when you work as a dental hygienist. Think about it. How many people do you know hate going to the dentist? You’ll quickly become a client favourite in your practice by exhibiting a personable style and comforting people skills.
“You have to have people skills. A lot of my job is just chatting with people,” Caroline says. “Just being that warm, friendly, personable person.”
“Doing the simple things like remembering their dog’s name or their grandkid. What they were doing with their grandkid the last time you saw them six months ago. Little things make a big difference.”
Some critical soft skills that dental hygienists should have to thrive in their role include:
Attention to detail
Health & safety
5. It’s not for the easily disgusted
One of a dental hygienist’s big responsibilities is to clean. They’re the ones who perform the “simple stuff so that dentists are free to do the hard stuff,” Caroline explains. “The root canals, or crowns, or the big surgeries.”
Put simply, “if you’re not naturally clean and into cleanliness, then that could be a problem,” Caroline says.
However, this “simple stuff” still involves a lot of up close and personal time with your patients (and their mouths). You’ll be screening, cleaning and treating people’s gums and teeth. And this is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
“I think you need to be prepared for anything, really,” Caroline explains. “All sorts of smells and sights and the colour of blood and bone.”
6. You make a difference to people’s health and confidence
Dental hygienists make a difference. Your work can potentially save someone’s teeth — and it can also give people their confidence back.
“They have this new confidence to go and smile at parties and let their kids see their teeth for the first time ever,” Carolines says about her patients. As a result, patients will also see value in your work, and their relationship with the dentist can shift into something more positive.
“Moving clients from a space of being either fearful or not wanting to come into the dentist — to then coming every six months” is a personal favourite part of the job for Caroline.
“Sometimes our treatments see really good results for people who are about to lose their teeth. They get to hang on to them for a bit longer based on just the treatment that’s been carried out. That’s pretty cool.”
Unlike a fully qualified dentist, becoming a dental hygienist doesn’t require a doctorate qualification. In fact, you have two clear study options that suit most learners:
Advanced Diploma of Oral Health (Dental Hygiene)
Bachelor of Oral Health
Both of these will ensure you meet the training requirements of AHPRA and see you be well on your way to becoming a dental hygienist.
If you’re ready to explore your options in the dental field, it’s time to browse and compare your study options.
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