This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Dental hygienists treat gum diseases, and educate people about care of their teeth and gums to help them prevent oral disease and maintain good oral health and general health.
Dental hygienists usually earn
$35-$60 per hour
Source: Symes de Silva; Emigrate New Zealand.
Pay for dental hygienists varies depending on experience, location, and whether they work full time or part time. Most work on contract to one or more dentists, and are paid an hourly rate.
- New dental hygienists earn about $35 an hour.
- Those with two to three years' experience can earn up to $45.
- Senior dental hygienists with more than five years' experience, or who supervise others, may earn up to $60.
Dental hygienists in Auckland tend to earn more than those in other parts of New Zealand.
Source: Symes de Silva; Emigrate New Zealand.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Dental hygienists work with clinical guidance from a dentist or periodontist (a dentist who specialises in treating gum disease). Dental hygienists may do some or all of the following:
- record the medical history of patients
- examine the patient's mouth, teeth, gums and jaw
- take and develop x-rays (if they are registered to do so)
- test saliva for signs of tooth decay
- recognise and treat periodontal disease (gum disease)
- educate patients on how to improve and maintain their oral health
- make mouthguards for sport, and stents (small plastic trays) for home bleaching
- whiten teeth
- maintain orthodontic appliances for patients
- teach and/or carry out research
- refer patients to dentists or specialists.
Skills and knowledge
Dental hygienists need to have knowledge of:
- oral health assessment
- the structure and function of the teeth, jaw and mouth
- the processes and stages of gum disease and oral health problems
- how to treat gum disease and oral health problems
- a range of oral health care procedures
- when to refer a patient to a dentist or a periodontist.
- may work full or part-time hours for one or more dental practices
- usually work in a team situation at a general dental practice in their own treatment room
- may also work in places such as hospitals and nursing homes.
What's the job really like?
Check out the video of Deb Pratt to find out what it’s like to be a dental hygienist - 1.28 mins.
Communication would be as important if not more important than our own technical skills. It’s about building trust with your clients and a good rapport so they’re happy to come back and see you so we can keep their oral health maintained and in a good healthy status.
People will often ask ‘Oh my goodness, how can you look in somebody’s mouth all day long?’ Somebody comes in with a mouth that is just really unhealthy, and they can see the changes and they can appreciate the health that they’ve achieved and keep them on a good healthy path, then we’re just creating health.
If you think you might be interested in dental hygiene as a career I would say visit your favourite dentist or your dental therapist at school see if you can hang out there for the day or afternoon and have a good look around and follow the hygienist and see if it’s something you might be interested in.
I do absolutely love my job and look forward to coming to work every day, and it’s the clients that come in and the personal relationships we make here.
To become a dental hygienist you need one of the following:
- Bachelor of Oral Health from Otago University
- Bachelor of Health Science in Oral Health from Auckland University of Technology.
You also need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand, and hold an annual practising certificate.
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Oral Health
- Auckland University of Technology website - information about the Bachelor of Health Science
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
To enter tertiary training you need to have NCEA Level 3. Useful subjects include biology, English and physical education.
Dental hygienists need to be:
- encouraging and willing to listen
- caring and sensitive to patients who are in pain or distress
- aware of the needs of people from other cultures and backgrounds
- able to explain complex information to patients
- skilled at organising, making decisions, and solving problems.
Useful experience for dental hygienists includes:
- dental receptionist work
- dental assistant work.
Dental hygienists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Dental hygienists need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand. They also need to hold an annual practising certificate from the Council.
- Dental Council of New Zealand website - information on registration
- Dental Council of New Zealand website - information on applying for an annual practising certificate
Find out more about training
- Dental Council of New Zealand
- (04) 499 4820 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.dentalcouncil.org.nz
- New Zealand Dental Hygienists' Association
What are the chances of getting a job?
Demand for dental hygienists is growing because:
- more people are becoming aware of the importance of preventive dental care
- the ageing population and increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes mean more people need dental care.
Dental hygienists work for other dental professionals or have their own practice
Most dental hygienists work for:
- dentists who do general dental work
- dental specialists, such as periodontists or orthodontists.
Some also set up their own private practices.
- Dental Council of New Zealand, 'Annual Report 2013', accessed December 2014, (www.dentalcouncil.org.nz).
- Symes, G, dental surgeon and practice owner, Symes de Silva, Careers New Zealand interview, August 2011.
Progression and specialisations
A small but growing number of dental hygienists are setting up their own practices. There are also opportunities for dental hygienists to work as academics at either the University of Otago or Auckland University of Technology.
Dental hygienists may specialise in one or more of the following areas:
- Crown and Bridge/Prosthodontic Hygienist
- Crown and bridge/prosthodontic hygienists prevent and treat gum disease in people with dental prostheses. They also help people maintain good oral and general health.
- Orthodontic Hygienist
- Orthodontist hygienists prevent and treat gum disease in children and young people with braces.
- Periodontal Hygienist
- Periodontal hygienists treat people who have had periodontal treatment for gum disease.
Last updated 22 August 2017