Dental Hygienist-therapist

Dental Hygienist-therapists carry out routine treatment prescribed by a registered Dentist, such as simple fillings, scaling and polishing of teeth or taking dental x-rays. They work in general dental practices, hospitals and within the Public Dental Service.

Dental Hygienist-therapist in the NHS in Scotland

As a Dental Hygienist-therapist, you do much of the straightforward work that a registered Dentist is able to do without the need for a referral. In addition, you would educate patients to help them address problems like bleeding gums or bad breath, by promoting good oral healthcare practices.

Working with other members of the dental team, such as Dental Nurses, you may treat a wide range of patients in vulnerable or priority groups, such as those who:

  • are anxious
  • may have medical issues
  • are physically disabled
  • have learning disabilities
  • have high levels of untreated decay
  • are unable to access regular NHSScotland dental care.

Working as a Dental Hygienist-therapist, your main duties would include:

  • educating and advising patients about smoking cessation, nutrition, fluoride and prevention of oral disease
  • periodontal therapy (scaling and polishing of teeth)
  • administering local anaesthesia
  • monitoring oral disease and screening for oral cancer
  • placing fillings
  • taking dental x-rays
  • taking dental impressions
  • providing emergency replacement of crowns and bridges

Useful skills include:

  • a steady hand and good practical skills
  • patience and empathy
  • a caring, helpful and friendly personality
  • strong communication skills
  • teamworking skills
  • IT skills
  • good time management skills

 Useful abilities include:

  • the ability to relate to people of all ages, lifestyles and backgrounds
  • comfortable training and speaking to groups of people
  • the ability to explain treatments and give instructions to patients
  • the ability to reassure patients and put them at ease

To practice as a Dental Hygienist-therapist in NHSScotland, you must be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). You will need to study an approved pre-registration programme, which can take three or four years full-time. 

In Scotland the following universities offer undergraduate programmes in oral health sciences:

The minimum academic entry requirements for these degree courses vary, but most universities in Scotland require SQA Higher ABBB grades, including Biology and English. A pass in SQA National 5 English and a second science subject grade A - C is also required, if these subjects are not achieved at SQA Higher grade.

Students with an SQA HNC Oral Health Care: Dental Nursing (SCQF Level 7) or SQA HND Dental Nursing (SCQF Level 8) may be allowed entry to year 1.

Entry requirements for oral health science programmes vary depending on the university, college or provider. Specific entry requirements, including other accepted qualifications, are provided on each university’s website.

To apply for an oral health science programme, you must use the UCAS application process. You can also visit the GDC website for a full list of approved educational institutions and oral health science programmes across the UK.

You will also need to be approved for membership of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme managed by Disclosure Scotland.

Postgraduate study

If you already have a relevant degree and healthcare experience, you can take Masters degree in Primary Dental Care. This usually takes three years.

Work experience

Increasingly, work experience plays an important part when applying for oral health science programmes. It will help you decide if a career as a Dental Hygienist-therapist is for you, as well as confirming your interest and suitability for the course.

Previous experience of working in dental care is beneficial. This can be either or paid or voluntary work in a general dental practice, hospital or other healthcare setting. You could also consider other roles in health and social care.

You are advised to contact NHSScotland boards or general dental practices in your area to discuss opportunities for work experience. Competition is extremely high, so applying early, being proactive and showing initiative is the key to securing a work experience placement.

Once qualified and registered with the General Dental Council (GDC), you can join the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT) or the British Society of Dental Hygiene & Therapy (BSDHT).

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

During your career as a Dental Care Professional (DCP), you would be expected to undertake CPD activities in order to:

  • keep your knowledge up to date and relevant to practice
  • maintain your registration with the GDC by ensuring your professional performance is up to standard
  • ensure your behaviour meets the ‘Standards for the Dental Team’ guidances set out by the GDC

You must also complete 150 hours of CPD activities every five years to maintain your registration with the GDC. This must include:

  • medical emergencies (at least 10 hours)
  • radiology and radiation protection (at least 5 hours)
  • disinfection and decontamination (at least 5 hours)

Other recommended areas include legal and ethical issues, complaint handling and oral cancer early detection.

In NHSScotland, Dental Hygienist-therapists start on band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay system. With experience, therapists can progress to band 6.

As an experienced Dental Hygienist-therapist, you may choose to work in an academic environment, such as teaching or research. You could train to work as Orthodonic Therapist or move into dental practice management. There may also be other opportunities, which would allow you to develop your skills, such as sedation training or cosmetic procedures, including tooth whitening.

Find out more information from these professional bodies.

General Dental Council (GDC)

The GDC is a UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for Dentists and Dental Care Professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education. Visit the GDC website to find out more.

British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT)

The BADT represents dental therapists working in the UK. It works closely with professional and regulatory bodies as well as government to improve recognition, standards, working practices and education for its members. Find out more on the BADT website.

British Society of Dental Hygiene & Therapy (BSDHT)

The BSDHT is a professional body that represents the interests of Dental Hygiene-therapists working in the UK. It also gives advice to public and private organisations on all matters relating to dental hygiene and therapy as well as providing information to the general public.