Math Requirements for a Dental Hygienist

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Dental hygienists remove hard and soft deposits from teeth, including plaque and stains. They clean and polish teeth with a variety of instruments, provide patients with information about good hygiene practices, examine teeth and gums and may also administer local anesthetics. Dental hygienist schools usually require that students are competent in mathematics before applying to the program and for good reason: many daily tasks performed by dental hygienists involve math.

Office Work

Dental hygienist students must learn basic math to prepare them for the general office work that is an inherent part of some dental hygienists' job duties. If you work for a dentist who does not have office staff, you'll be required to schedule patients, figure out how much a particular procedure will cost, bill patients for procedures performed and complete insurance forms. To successfully complete these tasks, you will need to be competent in basic arithmetic including fractions, percentages and decimals.


A hygienist will often take x-rays of a patient. To be successfully in radiography, you will have to be able to memorize numbers, visually bisect areas (cut an area in two), read radiography charts and use formulas. For example, one common formula used in radiography is the exposure-distance formula E1/E2 = D1 / D2 where E1 is the exposure at D1, E2 is the exposure at D2, D1 is the first distance from the source and D2 is the second distance from the source. The exposure-distance formula is helpful when it is necessary to change the film's distance from the source of the radiation. Other formulas include the inverse square law, the reciprocity law and the law for geometric magnification.

Lab Work

Dental hygienists must be able to work in a lab environment. Measuring and mixing materials using the metric system is part of the day-to-day job. For example, a dental hygienist may have to measure local anesthetic or mix a preparation of fluoride treatment.