General Information

Who is the Registered Dental Hygienist?

The dental hygienist is a licensed health care professional who is a member of the health care team and who focuses on the prevention and treatment of oral diseases.

The "RDH" Designation

The "RDH" means “Registered Dental Hygienist.” The RDH credential identifies a dental hygienist as a licensed oral health professional. State licensure requirements typically indicate that a dental hygienist must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene education program, successfully pass a national written examination, and a state or regional clinical examination.

Scope of Practice

Each state has its own specific regulations and the range of services performed by dental hygienists vary from one state to another. As part of dental hygiene services, dental hygienists may:
  • perform oral health care assessments that include reviewing patients' health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, and taking and recording blood pressure;
  • expose, process, and interpret dental X-rays;
  • remove plaque and calculus (tartar)-soft and hard deposits-from above and below the gumline;
  • apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluoride, varnishes and sealants to the teeth;
  • teach patients proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums;
  • counsel patients about plaque control and developing individualized at-home oral hygiene programs; and
  • counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health.
  • In Michigan, hygienists can administer local anesthesia and nitrous oxide.
  • See the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website for more information on the rules and regulations for dental hygienists in Michigan.

Education

Dental hygienists are graduates of accredited dental hygiene education programs in colleges and universities (generally 3-4 years in length), and must take written and clinical licensing examinations before they are allowed to practice. Although, the majority of dental hygienists work in private dental practices, many are expanding their practice setting to include employment as:
  • educators
  • administrators
  • business managers
  • researchers
  • consultants
Graduates are employed by:
  • private practitioners in general dentistry and the specialties
  • hospitals
  • schools
  • public health programs
  • insurance companies
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • dental equipment supply companies
At the University of Detroit Mercy, dental hygiene graduates will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Dental Hygiene. Students must complete a minimum of 35 semester credits of prerequisite college coursework prior to being admitted into the UDM School of Dentistry dental hygiene program.

Job Outlook

Dental hygienists rank among the fastest growing occupations, and job prospects are expected to remain excellent throughout the country.

Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 33 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. This projected growth ranks dental hygienists among the fastest growing occupations, in response to increasing demand for dental care and the greater use of hygienists.

The demand for dental services will grow because of population growth, older people increasingly retaining more teeth, and a growing focus on preventative dental care. To meet this demand, facilities that provide dental care, particularly dentists’ offices, will increasingly employ dental hygienists, and more hygienists per office, to perform services that have been performed by dentists in the past.

For more information on the outlook of the Dental Hygiene profession, please visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How Can I Get More Information about RDHs?

Please contact the American Dental Hygienists' Association - the largest national organization representing the professional interests of the more than 120,000 licensed dental hygienists nationwide, by visiting www.adha.org.

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