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Dental Hygienist Skills

By allied health world contributing writer

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What skills or traits do hygienists need to succeed?

To be a good fit for this profession, there are several personality traits that are important to have in order to succeed. First, it is important to be somewhat social and outgoing; willing to talk to the  patients and make them feel comfortable. It is also important for the hygienist to be detailed in both the questions they ask the patients and the documentation they take for their charts so that nothing is missed. It is essential for these professionals to be effective communicators both in asking the right questions and listening to the patient, as well as explaining each situation and working with the dentist. Finally, it is important for hygienists to be both compassionate and patient. They need to make sure the patient is shown that they care about their situation and what they may be going through.

Learn more about how to become a dental hygienist.

Benefits of a career as a hygienist

One of the rewards of working as a dental hygienist is encountering a variety of people every day, each with different personalities Dental Hygienist Job Skillsand dental needs. People who are social and extroverts tend to enjoy this line of work, although may have to be careful not to be too talkative with patients with all those dental tools are in their mouths! It is difficult for the patients to respond to questions or conversation while getting their teeth examined and cleaned.

While working with a variety of people is a great benefit, possibly the greatest benefit in this line of work is the feeling of making a difference in people's lives. Without hygienists, there would likely be a huge increase in gum disease and poor oral health. According to Julie Kauffman, a hygienist of 6 years, “I really love it when someone I saw 6 months ago comes in and their gums have gone from red and bleeding to pink, firm, healthy tissue.”

Challenges in this profession

One of the biggest challenges in the dental industry as a whole, is working with insurance companies since many do not offer suitable dental coverage. When a patient allows their insurance coverage to determine what they are willing to have done with their teeth can be frustrating. According to Julie Kauffman, oftentimes as a hygienist it is very difficult to get patients to choose health over cost. Just because insurance doesn't pay for all of a procedure doesn't mean it isn't necessary.

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“Sometimes people just don't think of their teeth or mouths as a body part. If you had an ear infection would you cut your ear off or take medication or have surgery done in order to make it better? You need your teeth in the same way you need your ears. You have a certain number of teeth for a reason; they all act together to help you chew, talk, and eat. If one is missing, the other teeth will have to try to compensate for this,” explained Julie.

Another challenge as a hygienist is dealing with difficult patients. Sometimes patients show up late and have a laundry list of problems they need the dentist to examine.


Finally, a physical challenge of this profession can be back pain from bending over patients all day. This profession is much different than an office job where employees sit at comfortable chairs and are monitored for ergonomic correctness.

Learn more about dental hygienist salary.

How many patients are seen by a hygienist in a regular work day?

This can depend on each patient’s needs and the health of their teeth; however, most regular adult cleanings take 45 minutes to an hour, cleanings for children last about 30 minutes, new patient appointments last one hour, and deep cleaning appointments can last up to an hour and a half. On average a hygienist may schedule ten patients per day.

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