Most Important Dental Hygienist Skills

Most Important Dental Hygienist Skills

By Bethanny Parker

Published on July 29, 2021

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists earned an annual median income of $77,090 in 2020. That's slightly more than the median pay for a registered nurse. But while most registered nurses need bachelor's degrees, dental hygienists typically only need an associate degree.

The average cost of tuition for a two-year public college is $3,372, so if you go to a community college close to home, you can get started as a dental hygienist for a relatively low investment. Additionally, 84% of dental hygienists say they are happy with their career choice, compared to a 59% overall job satisfaction rate for all careers.

This guide covers the skills necessary to become a dental hygienist and answers some common questions for those interested in joining the field.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Dental Hygienist?

Most of what you need to know to be a dental hygienist will be covered during an associate degree program in dental hygiene. This includes how to clean teeth, take X-rays, apply fluoride treatments, and assist the dentist with procedures such as root canals, fillings, and crowns. Other traits and skills necessary for the field include communication skills, independence, time management, problem-solving, and empathy.

Communication Skills

As a dental hygienist, your responsibilities will include taking patient histories, talking to patients about their oral hygiene routines, and talking patients through the procedure as you work on their teeth and gums. Additionally, you will need to communicate with the dentist, as your patient may have problems and concerns that the dentist will need to address.

Christine Songco, a registered dental hygienist in California, especially enjoys interacting with patients. “I have gotten to know my patients well and have developed a great rapport with many of them.”

Having solid communication skills will also help you during the interview process. The ability to build rapport with the interviewer will likely increase your chances of getting the job.


Dental hygienists should be able to perform their duties without constant supervision. In many states, independent dental hygienists can offer dental hygiene services without the direct supervision of a dentist. This is called direct access, and the rules governing it vary by state.

Time Management

Dental hygienists must be able to complete all of their tasks in a short period of time. They will usually have 90 minutes for a new patient visit, 60 minutes for a regular visit, and 30-40 minutes for children. The easiest way to stay on task is to do everything in the same order each time.


Dental hygienists encounter a spectrum of dental challenges and may need to address issues such as fearful or distrustful patients. Successful hygienists must be able to problem-solve, whether this means fixing a tooth or easing a patient's anxiety around dental work.


Some people naturally have empathy for what other people experience; others have to work a little harder at it. If you don't have this gift, try to put yourself into your patients' shoes and imagine what it would feel like to experience what they are experiencing. If you can empathize with your patients, you will find it easier to know what to say to help alleviate their anxiety and fear.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dental Hygienist Skills

Is being a dental hygienist hard?

Although dental hygienists can land a job with an associate degree, they must pass rigorous exams to become licensed. Dental hygienists must also take continuing education courses in order to maintain their licensing. In addition, many dental hygienists find the job takes a physical toll on their bodies, especially their backs. The job requires repetitive motions that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries.

Is attention to detail a good skill to have as a dental hygienist?

Yes. Dental hygienists must pay attention to what they are doing while cleaning their patients' teeth. Small issues with the teeth or gums may become bigger problems if left untreated.

How important is dexterity as a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists work inside of patients' mouths with sharp instruments. If they are not careful, they can easily cause injuries with these tools. Dental hygienists must be able to manipulate their tools into small crevices in order to remove plaque from every surface of the tooth and not injure patients.

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