The Registered Dental Hygienist

The Dental Hygienist is a licensed health care practitioner. The Dentist and Hygienist work together to meet the oral health needs of patients. Some of the services provided by dental hygienists in Washington state include:

Patient screening procedures; such as assessment of oral health conditions, review of the health history, oral cancer screening, head and neck inspection, dental charting, periodontal screening, and taking blood pressure and pulse.

  • Taking dental x-rays
  • Removing calculus (tartar) and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth
  • Providing therapeutic treatments for Periodontal (gum) disease and infection
  • Giving anesthetic, and placing and polishing fillings
  • Applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g., sealants and fluorides)
  • Educating patients in appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain health (e.g., toothbrushing, flossing and nutritional counseling)
  • Counseling patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health
  • Performing documentation and office management activities

Dental hygienists receive their education through academic programs at community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools or universities. The majority of community college programs take at least two years to complete, with graduates receiving associate degrees. Receipt of this degree allows a hygienist to take licensure examinations (national and state or regional), become licensed, and to work in a dental office.

Dental hygienists are licensed by each state to provide dental hygiene care and patient education. Almost all states require that dental hygienists be graduates of commission-accredited dental hygiene education programs to be eligible for state licensure. And, almost all states require candidates for licensure to obtain a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (a comprehensive written examination) in addition to passing the state-authorized licensure examination. The state or regional examination tests candidates’ clinical dental hygiene skills as well as their knowledge of dental hygiene and related subjects.

Upon receipt of their license, dental hygienists may use “RDH” after their names to signify recognition by the state that they are a Registered Dental Hygienist.