Dental hygienist to the rescue

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Dental hygienist to the rescue – The growing importance of this profession in dental medicine

The profession of the dental hygienist is much older than many of us may think and it was introduced in the US over 100 years ago. Since the mid-20th century, the dental hygienist has become a well-known quantity in Europe as well and has established itself in 20 European nations. According to a recent study, over the past 10 years, the number of dentists in the EU has increased by roughly 12% while the number of dental hygienists has increased by 80%. This clearly shows that this profession is enjoying increasing popularity and likely a continued growth. Continuously longer lifespans and the growth of the general population are two key factors that will fuel this trend for years to come.

What is a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists are specialized on preventive medicine and are responsible for the preservation of the surrounding bone and soft tissue, including the gums. To perform their job duties, dental hygienists work in dental practices, dental clinics, and in public health institutions as well as in teaching institutions or in the dental equipment industry. In some countries, like the USA and Canada, preventive dental procedures are left almost exclusively to dental hygienists. More recently, and due to rising demand for higher-quality preventive dental services, a handful of European countries have also introduced the profession of the dental hygienist into their dental care systems. This offers yet another career progression pathway to the dental assistants of today.  

Very important to remember is the fact that a dental assistant is not capable of performing the same high-quality work that a dental hygienist can. This becomes an issue when certain dental practices decide to “sell up” their dental assistants as dental hygienists in an effort to pocket a higher payment from their patient’s insurance carrier.

How popular are dental hygienists in Austria?

On the contrary to other European countries, Austria introduced the profession of dental assistant before the profession of dental hygienist. One of the main reasons for that is the fact that the academic curriculum for the dental hygienist profession is still in its infancy in Austria. As a result, people who live in Austria do not yet have a clear understanding of the service quality difference in the work of a dental assistant compared to that of a dental hygienist, given that only relatively few dental hygienists are currently practicing in Austria. Over time, this is bound to change, however.

How does one become a dental hygienist?

Training for dental hygienists is nowadays being added to a growing number of dental schools in Austria and usually takes 3 years from start to finish (a bachelor’s degree diploma). Graduates can go on to work in dental practices, other clinical institutions, including university dental clinics, and even academia. 

The value of dental hygienists for patients and dental practices

Caries and gum inflammations are nowadays the most frequently occurring illnesses inside the oral cavity among people in the German-speaking realm. In those EU countries, where dental hygienists are a staple in dental care, the rate of such illnesses is much lower in comparison to other countries. This is why an increasing number of insurance companies are starting to cover preventive dental care measures because those do not only save money but also promote better dental and oral health. From the point of view of a dental practice, dental hygienists are also very valuable, given that they can drive significant revenue increases to a dental practice (up to € 100.000 - 150.000 more per year). Dental hygienists themselves can expect an annual salary of roughly € 45.000 in Austria.

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