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Dental Hygienist: Education and Career Information

Dental hygiene can be a very lucrative career path. This is one of the top 10 industries that has remained stable and shown continuous growth over the years and is considered to be one of the most prosperous in the U.S. This profession deals with oral care and can be challenging at times. Having a level head and unbiased demeanor are essential in attaining success in this field. Depending on your locale, this particular position is in high demand, which can significantly increase your earning potential.

What does a dental hygienist do?

A dental hygienist works directly with the dentist to provide oral health solutions to patients. There are a number of services that can be provided by a dental hygienist, which vary depending on the state or facility where you work. A few duties of a dental hygienist:

•Office management
•Preparation of documents
•Application of sealants and fluorides to teeth
•Patient screening
•Dental charting
•Teeth cleanings
•Patient education and counseling
•Teeth impressions
•X-rays
•Administering local anesthesia

A dental hygienist must be proficient in the use of a number of tools, devices and technology used for dental procedures. Dental hygienists also work in specialty niche areas like pediatric dentistry or periodontics. People get dental assistants and dental hygienists confused, but there are significant differences. A dental assistant can work with a certification of completion from a dental program and does not have to sit for the exam, but the dental hygienist must sit for the national and state exams to obtain licensure.

How much do dental hygienists earn?

The salary of a dental hygienist is consistently evolving as this role continues to be reshaped. Salaries in 2014 indicate the national average to be $56,780 per year for a beginner, but it depends on the location and amount of responsibility involved. In 2012, the median annual wage was $70,210 with a projected growth rate of 33 percent from 2012 to 2022. Every dental hygienist must be licensed. The salary is also dependent on the experience and level of education beyond the standard requirements.

What types of skills are needed to be successful in this field?

The dental professional is a highly specialized field that is immersed in diversity. Good communication skills are a must for dealing with patients and handling situations in a professional manner. Here are some other skills you will need:

Research: There will be times when you will need to look up a particular term or procedure to assist the dentist. Having adequate research skills will come in handy.

Writing skills: Dental hygienists work with patient charts and other documentation. Having good writing skills is a must, especially if sending communication out on behalf of the office.

Clear speaking voice: Patients are put at ease when they have a hygienist that speaks clearly and is able to articulate the procedure they are having done.

Ability to disseminate information: Dental hygienists frequently have to educate patients on good oral care and what to do after a procedure. Being able to clearly communicate with patients is important.

Attention to detail: The mouth is a very sensitive area and any wrong moves can be detrimental. It is important to not only perform the procedures correctly, but also write the correct information on the chart.

Ability to work with others: As a dental hygienist, you will be working with the dental office staff and the dentist. Being able to work with others is a key part of the job.

Able to use technology: Procedures and equipment are constantly changing. Being technologically proficient is a necessity.

Internship requirements

Each dental program is different and has their own set of requirements for completion. While there is no “set” internship requirement, most programs include an internship at a local dentist office for a short period of time to help the student become familiar with the process and what to expect beyond the dental office simulation existing throughout the program. For more information on what an internship program entails, it would be best to speak to an advisor on when the internship should take place, and where you may be working. Most dental schools and programs have a working relationship with local dentists to provide experience to the students.

Education requirements

Dental hygiene is a licensed profession. There are a number of high school programs available that will acclimate students to the environment, demonstrating what the profession entails. Some of these programs will transfer into college credit, which will help you reach your goal in a shorter time. Dental hygienist programs are offered in a number of places: technical colleges, dental schools, community colleges or universities.

The standard community college program is completed in two years, which will grant the student an associate’s degree, and allow you to sit for the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. Once you pass, you will be able to work in a dental office. For students who are in a university-based program, the program is longer, which will result in a bachelor’s, or Master of Science in Dental Hygiene (MSDH) degree. Individuals who attain higher education degrees are usually eligible to teach or work for public health institutions. There are also distance learning dental hygiene education programs available for students who need an alternative learning setting.

A good foundation is necessary to begin a dental hygiene program. Students interested in dental hygiene can start taking relevant courses such as chemistry, biology, psychology, speech and math while still in high school. Each dental hygiene program is different, and doing a little research to find out what is required is key. It is important to do the legwork before entering into a dental hygienist program to make sure it meets the standards and is accredited by the American Dental Association.

Once the certification is received, dental hygienists must renew their license every couple of years to stay in compliance with the law. Although the requirements vary by state, a typical renewal is every two years. Finding out the requirements in your state is essential in making sure your licensure requirements are met. After the national exam, dental hygienists must sit for the state or regional clinical board examination in each state they wish to practice dental hygiene. In the medical and dental profession, having your credential listed after your name is the norm. A licensed dental hygienist may use “R.D.H.” after their name to demonstrate they are a registered dental hygienist.

Once you have completed all the certification and licensing requirements and start working in the profession, it can be a very rewarding career.

Dentistry Scholarships

ADA Foundation CBCF Louis Stokes Health Scholars Program CDA Foundation
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
Academy of Laser Dentistry U.S. Army Health Professions Scholarship Hispanic Dental Association
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Quick Fact
In 2018, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

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