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What Do Dental Hygienists Do?

Each state has its own specific regulations and the range of services performed by dental hygienists varies from one state to another.

As part of dental hygiene services, dental hygienists may:

  • Perform oral health care assessments that include the review of patients' health history

  • Dental charting

  • Oral cancer screening and head and neck inspection 

  • Evaluation of gum disease / health

  • Expose, process, and interpret dental radiographs (x-rays)

  • Remove plaque and calculus (“tartar”) from above and below the gumline using dental instruments

  • Apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth

  • Administer local anesthetic and / or nitrous oxide analgesia for the control of pain management

  • Educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums

  • Counsel patients about plaque control and developing individualized at-home oral hygiene programs

  • Administer smoking cessation programs

  • Counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health


Where Do Dental Hygienists Work?

Clinical dental hygienists may work in a variety of health care settings such as:

  • Private dental offices

  • Schools

  • Public health clinics

  • Hospitals

  • Managed care organizations

  • Correctional institutions

  • Nursing homes

  • A corporate environment


In addition to the clinical role, dental hygienists may also work in an administrative capacity in any of the above locations.


What Does the "RDH" Designation Mean?

The "RDH" means Registered Dental Hygienist. The RDH credential identifies a dental hygienist as a licensed oral health professional.

State licensure requirements typically indicate that a dental hygienist must:

  • Graduate from an accredited dental hygiene education program,

  • Successfully pass a national written examination,

  • Successfully pass a state or regional clinical examination. (In Indiana, the designation LDH [Licensed Dental Hygienist] is used instead of RDH.)

Depending upon the level of education and experience achieved, dental hygienists can apply their skills and knowledge to other career activities such as:

  • Teaching hygiene students in dental schools and dental hygiene education programs

  • Research

  • Office management and business administration 


Employment opportunities also may be available with companies that market dental-related materials and equipment. More information may be found at

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Dental hygienists are preventive oral health care professionals who have graduated from an accredited dental hygiene program in an institution of higher education, is licensed in dental hygiene, and who provides educational, clinical research, administrative and therapeutic resources supporting total health through the promotion of optimal oral health.

Dental hygienists must take a written national board examination and a clinical examination before they are licensed to practice.  


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