About the Profession
Registered Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals who focus on preventing and treating oral diseases-to protect teeth and gums as well as protect patients’ total health.
The “RDH” Designation
“RDH” means “Registered Dental Hygienist.” The RDH credential identifies a dental hygienist as a licensed oral health professional. State licensure requirements typically require that a dental hygienist must graduate from a nationally accredited dental hygiene education program, successfully pass a national written examination, and a state or regional clinical examination.
Dental hygienists are graduates of accredited dental hygiene education programs in colleges and universities, and must take written and clinical exams before they are allowed to practice. In addition to treating patients directly, dental hygienists also work as educators, researchers, and administrators. At UAMS, dental hygiene graduates can receive either a Bachelor of Science or an Associate of Science degree. Students must complete a minimum of 39 semester credits of prerequisite college coursework prior to being admitted into the UAMS dental hygiene program.
Scope of Practice
Each state has its own specific regulations and the range of services performed by dental hygienists vary from one state to another. As part of dental hygiene services, dental hygienists may:
- perform oral health care assessments that include reviewing patients’ health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, and taking and recording blood pressure;
- expose, process, and interpret dental X-rays;
- remove plaque and calculus (tartar)-soft and hard deposits-from above and below the gumline;
- apply cavity-preventive agents, such as fluorides and sealants, to the teeth;
- teach patients proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums;
- counsel patients about plaque control and develop individualized at-home oral hygiene programs; and
- counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health.
In Arkansas, hygienists can administer local anesthesia.
Dental hygienists can work as clinicians, educators, researchers, administrators, managers, preventive program developers, consumer advocates, sales and marketing managers, editors, and consultants. 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, or nursing homes.
Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations through 2020, ranking among the fastest growing occupations. On-going research linking oral health and general health will continue to spur the demands for preventative dental services, which are often provided by dental hygienists.
Population growth and greater retention of natural teeth will stimulate demand for dental hygienists. Older dentists, who have been less likely to employ dental hygienists, are leaving the occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to employ one or even two hygienists. In addition, as dentists’ workloads increase, they are expected to hire more hygienists to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning, so that they may devote their own time to more profitable procedures.
In 2010, the national median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $32.81. Earnings vary greatly by geographic location, employment setting, and years of experience. Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, salary, or commission basis. A four-day work week is very common in the dental profession. The average starting salary for a new graduate in Arkansas is approximately $60,000 to $65,000 (4-day work week). Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment. Dental hygienists who work for school systems, public health agencies, the Federal Government, or State agencies usually have substantial benefits.
How Can I Get More Information about RDHs?
Please contact the American Dental Hygienists’ Association-the largest national organization representing the professional interests of the more than 120,000 licensed dental hygienists nationwide at www.adha.org.