What is a dental hygienist?
Dental hygienists are educated health professionals who specialize in the promotion of oral health and prevention of oral disease. They have become an integral member of the oral health-care team, able to work alongside dentists, independently, or in a wide range of fields dealing with oral health care.
In addition to earning a diploma or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from a college or university accredited by The Commission on Dental Accreditation of Canada, practising dental hygienists must be registered with the dental hygiene regulatory authority in their province or territory. Once registered and practising, most provinces and territories require dental hygienists to successfully complete a number of professional development initiatives each year. In Ontario a quality assurance program is mandatory.
While proper brushing and flossing techniques are important strategies in the profession, dental hygienists are also highly educated and capable of planning and implementing oral care interventions, various client motivational and communication strategies, and both process and outcome evaluation.
The primary task of dental hygienists is to perform periodontal therapy, which includes but is not limited to, assessing and recording the overall oral conditions, commonly called charting, providing scaling and root planing, which may be referred to as teeth cleaning, and taking measures for oral disease prevention. Some dental hygienists can administer local anesthesia and perform intraoral radiography. Dental hygienists are also able to apply dental sealants and administer fluoride.
In orthodontic clinics, dental hygienists are able to size and qualify bands for dental braces, remove oral appliances, such as braces, and take impressions for the construction of casts and mouthguards.
In Ontario, dental hygienists can self-initiate treatment. They can also scale and plane teeth and perform other measures, like curettage surrounding tissues, all without an order from a dentist subject to any restrictions by the regulatory college.
With more than 20,000 practitioners in Canada, dental hygienists make up the sixth-largest regulated health profession in the country. While dental clinics are the most frequent career landing spot, dental hygienists are able to work in a variety of other fields, including sales and marketing, labs and research, community health, education, and more.
How do I become a dental hygienist?
In Ontario, all dental hygienists must have a degree or diploma from one of the dental hygiene programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of Canada. Currently in Ontario, there are 18 colleges across the province that run accredited programs.
In addition to the successful completion of an accredited dental hygiene program, students must pass a written and may be required to pass a clinical entry-to-practice examination. The written exam is administered by the National Dental Hygiene Certification Board (NDHCB) and the clinical competency exam is typically administered by the regulatory college.
Dental hygienists with a completed diploma or degree who have not practised in the dental hygiene field within the last three years may be required to complete a clinical refresher course or a competency assessment in order to work.
Once an aspiring dental hygienist completes their education and regulatory assessments, they must register with the provincial or territorial dental hygiene regulatory authority. In Ontario practising dental hygienists are then monitored by the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario’s (CDHO) Quality Assurance Program to ensure that they are practising safely and effectively. Professional development is required to keep dental hygienists familiar with evolving standards and practices.
For the most part, dental hygienists work within dental offices, cleaning teeth, checking for signs of decay and disease and managing oral health. While the services a dental hygienist can perform differ by province and territory, such as the ability to administer local anesthesia, all dental hygienists have the education and credentials to specialize in preventive oral care, but they are not limited to that only.
Click here for some of the career options available for dental hygienists.
Student Loans and Grants
Dental hygiene students across Canada have a wealth of financial aid options available to them. One of the first steps for aspiring dental hygiene students should be to explore the grants, bursaries, scholarships, and awards available at the college or colleges of their choice. Since the requirements for these vary from college to college, it’s always wise to look at several potential colleges as the specific award eligibility may help determine which college to attend.
Click here for a list of accredited dental hygiene programs in Ontario and links to each college’s financial aid section of their website if available.
Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)
One of the most common routes for students is to take advantage of the government assistance programs available in each of the provinces and territories, such as Ontario Student Assistant Program (OSAP) in Ontario. Most of these programs offer zero-interest loans while studying, and upon graduation the loan becomes interest bearing at standard rates.
For more information, please visit: https://www.ontario.ca/page/osap-ontario-student-assistance-program
Student Loans from Financial Institutions
Another option for dental hygiene students is to apply for a student loan through a financial institution. Since dental hygiene is a professional designation program, many students looking for financial aid have a valuable funding option available to them from Canadian banks. The positive career potential in the dental hygiene profession offers competitive salaries and favourable growth, which, in turn, makes student loans a lower risk for the bank than most college and university programs.