Dental hygienists

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About dental hygienists

Dental hygienists are regulated health professionals who provide clinical assessments and therapy, as well as oral health education, and offer health promotion strategies to people of all ages. Many dental hygienists also conduct or participate in research studies to expand the scientific basis of dental hygiene practice. 

Dental hygienists have interprofessional practices in dental offices with dentists, denturists and dental assistants. Dental hygienists practise in a variety of settings, including public health, dental hygiene practices, dental offices, hospitals, long-term care facilities and educational institutions, and in the dental industry. An increasing number of dental hygienists have independent dental hygiene practices, where they practise solely or interprofessionally with other health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and speech‑language pathologists and audiologists.

Data availability

CIHI’s Health Workforce Database (HWDB) collects aggregate-level, standardized data on the regulatory environment, supply, and demographic and education characteristics of dental hygienists in Canada.

Reports and analyses

Regulatory environment

In Canada, dental hygienists are regulated in all 13 provinces and territories.

Practice criteria

To practise as a dental hygienist in Canada, an individual must obtain a licence from one of the dental hygiene authorities in Canada. The requirements to obtain a licence are similar across the country but can vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another.

Common requirements

  • Hold a diploma in dental hygiene from an accredited program or equivalent
  • Register with a provincial/territorial regulatory body
  • Pass the National Dental Hygiene Certification Board examination (applicable in most provinces)
  • Hold a membership with the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) to practise in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta. In the other provinces and territories, membership in CDHA is voluntary and not required for registration.

Scope of practice

Dental hygienists are highly trained professionals who analyze and interpret data using problem-solving and decision-making skills in order to synthesize information and formulate a client-centred, specific diagnosis.i   

The scope of practice for dental hygienists is articulated in provincial regulatory legislation, which outlines the range of responsibilities that define the boundaries of professional practice.ii 

The key responsibilities of dental hygienists are to 

  • Examine the mouth, oral tissues, head and neck to identify strengths, needs and concerns related to clients’ oral health
  • Formulate a dental hygiene diagnosis
  • Work collaboratively with clients to develop goals and plan the appropriate care to meet their oral health needs
  • Perform preventive and therapeutic procedures, such as periodontal therapy (removing calculus and plaque from teeth), take X-rays, apply fluoride to prevent tooth decay, and provide support for healthy lifestyle choices in the form of smoking cessation strategies, nutritional counselling and oral cancer screening
  • Evaluate progress in achieving optimal oral health

i. Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. Dental Hygiene: Definition, Scope and Practice Standards. 2002.
ii. Dental Hygiene Canada. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed on May 7, 2016.