Contemporary Hygienist – the additional skills you need that they don’t tell you about

This month Claire Berry and Faye Donald discuss the additional and unexpected skills you may find you need to be a contemporary hygienist.

This month Claire Berry and Faye Donald discuss the additional and unexpected skills you may find you need to be a contemporary hygienist.

How many of you have been here? You finally qualify as a hygienist and you excitedly embark on a career that is promised to be rewarding and fulfilling. Only to quickly realise that what you have learned at university is only a very small part of the career you are about to take on.

It pays to quickly learn that being a hygienist means you wear a fair few hats. And to get the fulfilment and reward this career certainly provides, you have to do more than know all about teeth, gums and dental disease.

Here is a list of the additional and unexpected skills you may find you need to be a contemporary hygienist…


This plays a huge role in our career. We’re responsible for encouraging our patients to change behaviours in oral health routines, cessation of damaging habits etc.

The definition of psychology is literally ‘the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context’. So, by definition we must understand the concept of psychology to be able to elicit these changes in a person.

A greater appreciation of how the human mind works allows us as clinicians to get our patients to adopt behaviour change easier and more effectively.

It also helps us manage ourselves better in the presence of patients and colleagues. Especially the difficult ones!


We see a number of patients on a very regular basis and we become a safe and confidential space for some of them. It’s like they see us as someone completely out of their circle who they can confide in.

It’s a great opportunity to build trust and be there for someone who needs us. Having to develop this skill is often unexpected, because we focus so much on teeth and gums that we can forget a person is attached to the end of that.

At Contemporary Hygienist HQ we think counselling skills help you to work with your patients on an individual basis and further enhances your ability to empathise and encourage behaviour change in order to gain better treatment outcomes.


An increasing number of hygienists and therapists are branching out to become practice owners.

And with direct access being big business at the minute and patients reaching out for help as they struggle to access NHS care, we need to be able to market our services.

It’s a skill that’s worth researching and learning in order to maximise your potential earnings and push the boundaries of your patient base.


Interest in the links between oral health and systemic health are continually growing. We find ourselves delving further and further into the realms of medic.

As experts in oral health, it is our duty to be experts in the links between how oral health can affect the body and vice versa.

It’s an exciting time to be a hygienist, learning more about the body as a whole and how the small body part we deal with can have such an impact on other systems.

It’s not enough that we know the ins and outs about just the periodontium anymore. The contemporary hygienist must now know in depth information about diseases and conditions. These inlcude diabetes, Alzheimer’s, fertility, heart disease and menopause to name just a few.

Book keeper

I wish someone had taught me about HMRC and tax before I embarked on my career. It’s something we should learn in maths at school, as we’d use that a lot more than pythagoras and trigonometry.

This is also a skill most hygienists and therapists will need if they are self-employed. Yes, an accountant is a good idea, but many do their own books.

It’s a skill you need to be prepared for if that’s the case and even to just understand what it takes to be a business owner.


There will be times in your career where you will be faced with a decision between what is right and what is asked of you.

You may also be faced with less than perfect work conditions or pay.

Being assertive doesn’t come naturally to all. But you may have to learn this skill to be the clinician you want to be.

I hope you don’t need it, but it pays to read up on how to be more assertive. It’s why we talk about this in our study clubs.


Alongside marketing, self-employed clinicians need to manage themselves as a business person.

With this comes entrepreneurial flare and an understanding that we may need to invest in ourselves and our business in order to grow and become the clinicians we want to be and have more control of our career.


This is a broad concept defined as ‘the cognitive and emotional reactions of an individual to the observed experiences of another’.

Having empathy increases the likelihood of being able to help others and show compassion. We are in a career that means we have to deal with a wide range of emotions. So being empathetic is a valuable skill.

We need the time to be able to apply this skill properly. It builds rapport, playing hand-in-hand with behaviour change and enhances patient confidence in our expertise.


It’s not easy being the most unliked clinician on the team (and we mean by the patients obviously)!

We actually say that in jest because we love changing patient perceptions of what dental hygiene appointments are about.

We’re sure you have all been there – to be told by a patient that they ‘don’t like the hygienist’.

Of course they don’t mean to offend us. It’s usually down to a past experience or listening to family members feeding them exaggerated stories about ‘a hygienist they once saw’.

However, it does take a thick skin to quite literally start an appointment being offending in this way – on numerous occasions.

Read previous Contemporary Hygienist columns:

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