Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists (oral hygienists) are concerned with the promotion of oral health and the prevention of dental disease. They remove stains and tartar from teeth and polish them. They apply decay-preventing agents to teeth, insert temporary fillings and take impressions and castings of study models. They give patients information about good home dental care and healthy nutritional practices.

Dental hygienists perform diagnostic tests for interpretation by the dentist, such as intra-oral and extra-oral X-rays. They assist dentists during dental operations.

Responsibilities of the job include providing dental health education about tooth care and diet, removing plaque and calculus by scaling and polishing teeth, taking impressions and/or dental radiographs of teeth, applying prophylactic/antibacterial materials, fissure sealants and topical fluorides to help prevent tooth decay, carrying out screening and monitoring procedures, treating and helping to prevent gum disease, ensuring that sterile conditions are maintained.  They offer advice and encouragement to patients, work closely with and under the instruction of dentists using a range of dental instruments and need to keep up-to-date with new developments within the profession maintaining patient dental records.

Dental hygienists are professional health educators with their own consulting rooms, who work under the supervision of dentists in private practices, or for the Department of Health in hospitals, clinics or schools, where they may also teach in dental hygiene programmes.

Consulting rooms are usually modern, airy and well equipped. Part of the work is sometimes done in operating theatres. If a dental hygienist works for a government health department, the job may include a certain amount of travelling to surrounding schools and institutions.  

Key skills are good eyesight and manual dexterity skills, and the ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time. Having a mature, friendly, confident and caring manner is important, as is the possession of appropriate personal characteristics such as effective interpersonal, communication, teamworking and listening skills.

Personal Requirements

  • enjoy working with people
  • able to put people at ease, especially children
  • patient, courteous and tactful
  • good communication skills
  • enjoy the sciences
  • neat, clean appearance and good health
  • manual dexterity
  • able to work well under pressure

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

  • National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
  • National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: Wits, UL

Diploma: Wits, UP, UWC

Dental hygienists must register with the Health Professions Council Council of South Africa (HPCSA) in the required category.

A selection committee selects a limited number of applicants on merit.


  • private dental practices
  • hospitals and clinics
  • state health departments
  • universities

Further Information

Oral Hygienists’ Association of South Africa
P O Box 205
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9300

South African Dental Association (SADA)
31 Princess of Wales Terrace
Johannesburg, Gauteng, 2193
South Africa
Tel: (011) 484-5288
Toll Free: 080 011 0725

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) 
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

Getting Started

  • speak to and ask if you can observe a dental hygienist at work
  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a dental practice

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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