How To Become A Dental Hygienist

How To Become A Dental Hygienist

There are loads of careers you can choose from in the oral health field – if you have a passion for health and science, you may want to know how to become a dental hygienist. Yes, this is a different career path from being a dentist or orthodontist. It isn’t as well known, but it can be just as fulfilling.


Let’s look at the various requirements one needs to be a dental hygienist, including high school subjects, which modules to take at university and what you can expect to earn in the various stages of your exciting career! 


In 2021, there was a shortage of oral health professionals, especially dental hygienists in South Africa. 


Oral health is critical to overall health. Diseases of the mouth are linked to other conditions like cardiovascular issues, gut health issues and more. This is why it is extremely important to have access to all sorts of oral health practitioners in the public health sector. Unfortunately, when people do not have this access, they opt to use unlicensed practitioners who operate in less than favourable locations. This leads to infections from unsterile environments and complications from unskilled surgeons. 


Dr Bulela Vava, the founder and national chairperson of the Public Oral Health Forum, says these chronic shortages, especially in provinces like the Eastern Cape, also force dentists in the public health system to operate as “dental butcheries as opposed to oral healthcare centres”.


Oral healthcare is integrated into the primary health care package provided in the public health sector.


What Is A Dental Hygienist


Dental Hygienists are often mistaken for dentists, but there is a difference between these two integral roles. 


One of the biggest differentiators between a dentist and a dental hygienist is the function of their role, explains WM Smile. Dentists usually see you for short periods of time or singular instances of cavities or root or treatment for gum disease, while a hygienist is there to maintain preventative care. This means a hygenist will regularly visit you to keep your mouth healthy and prevent dental trips. 

A dental hygienist is a qualified oral health professional. They are responsible for the prevention and treatment of oral diseases. Dental hygienists are usually independent and have their own practices, separate from dentists – although they work under general supervision from a licensed dentist occasionally. 

At the oral hygenist, you will:

  • Get teeth cleanings during a routine appointment. 
  • Have the tartar and plaque scraped off your teeth
  • Get a polish 
  • Take X-rays of your teeth and gums,
  • Do a fluoride rinse and more. 


The hygienist will also review ways to care for your teeth at home.


As the name says, they focus on the hygiene part of routine oral care—; brushing, flossing and more. 


Dentists practice in the field of dentistry. This involves the mouth, teeth, gums and related areas. 


Keeping in line with our vision of cost-effective insurance cover, Affinity Dental will provide you with essential Oral Health benefits at a rate you can afford.


Affinity Dental offers three levels of dental care cover:

  • It can help you maintain your normal state of dental care; we pay for your bi-annual trips to a network dentist who will provide advanced care.
  • It can help cover more expensive dental procedures such as root canals and crowns, according to the formulary, for additional premiums.
  • It can cover emergency dental treatment too. Affinity Dental protects you if you suddenly damage your teeth and need immediate treatment.


Dental Hygienist Salary in South Africa


A career in Dental Hygiene is one of the country’s top ten highest-paying jobs, so it can be a great choice and very lucrative. The average dental hygienist salary in South Africa is R 300 000 per year or R 154 per hour. Entry-level positions start at R 150 000 per year, while most experienced workers make up to R 422 405 per year.


Subject Requirements To Become A Dental Hygienist


Dental hygienists in South Africa typically study for three years at the university level before qualifying. You do not need t complete a PhD. Once qualified, you will have to register with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to work.


Dental hygienists in South Africa often work as dental assistants in private practice and public and private hospitals.  


The qualifications to be a Dental Hygienist in SA are as follows:

  1. Certificate (National Senior Certificate /NC(V) (Entry into programmes subject to the specific requirements of the educational institution)
  2. Bachelor’s Degree (Bachelor of Science in Oral Health)

This may vary depending on which tertiary institution you choose to study at. You will need to get more than 70% aggregate for the following subjects:


Contact The Health Professionals Council of South Africa or the South African Dental Association to find more information about dental hygienists.


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