In today’s economy, it is not uncommon for someone to go to a four-year university for a bachelor’s degree and come out with over $80,000 worth of debt, only to be offered a job with a starting salary of $40,000 per year. This is all contingent upon the college graduate finding a job in a timely manner, so they don’t have to move home with mom and dad. The fact remains that the more years one spends in college does not always equal job security and receiving a living wage.
One great option that involves less schooling, higher pay, job security, and career satisfaction is to become a dental hygienist. The average person can receive the basic dental hygienist training in two years through receiving an associate’s degree in the field and taking a national, a state, or a regional licensure exam. These programs are offered through various community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools or universities. In order to enter into most associate degree programs, you will need to have obtained a high school diploma or GED and have taken the SAT’s or ACT’s. If you choose a program through a university, you may have the option of earning a baccalaureate or master’s degree. When deciding to receive further training, keep in mind that advanced degrees require two or more additional years of schooling. However, higher level dental hygienist degrees may be necessary for jobs involving teaching, researching, or clinical practices having to do with schools or areas of public health.
Once accepted to a program, what can you expect during your two or more years of training? Much like any degree having to do with patient care or the medical field, dental hygiene programs provide students with a clinical experience where they are directly responsible for patient care, under the supervision of a trained hygienist. In addition, students get to enjoy portions of a liberal arts education, taking basic foundation level classes in areas such as composition and psychology. Understandably, there are a number of basic science courses, such as chemistry, pharmacology, and anatomy. Finally, what makes the dental hygienist program unique are its classes that focus on clinical sciences, such as dental hygiene and dental materials.
It is important to remember that graduation from a two-year, four-year, or master’s level program does not mean that you are ready to start work. Once the coursework is completed, it is time to take some form of licensure exams. These, as mentioned above, may be at the national, state, or regional levels. If you are applying to take the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, provided by the American Dental Association, it will be necessary to provide proof of training and letters of recommendation. In addition, many forms of licensure require that you successfully pass a CPR class.
Aside from the national exam, you will need to apply for state-specific licensure. More information about what your state’s dental hygiene licensing board requires can be found through the Secretary of State website. One of the final steps before starting your job search is to pass your state’s clinical exam. This is an exam taken by treating an actual patient and being scored on your performance. Once you have completed your degree, passed the national exam, applied for state licensure, and passed the state clinical, you will be on your way to looking for jobs. Remember to factor in applying for the exams, taking the exams, and receiving the results and certificate into the total time it takes to become a registered dental hygienist. This process could take 3-6 months.
Once you are registered and working, you can expect to make an average of $70,000 per year, with the lower 25th percentile still making around $58,000 per year. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that by the year 2022 there will be a 33% increase in jobs in the field of dental hygiene, as the importance of preventative medicine continues to come to light. Most importantly, dental hygienists enjoy an interesting and fulfilling career. You would be on the front line of any practice, the person that the patient sees first. You must be friendly and personable, enjoying getting to know your patients. It’s just as much about patient interaction as it is about clinical skill. It will be your job to instill positive dental hygiene habits into your patients, hopefully starting at a young age. It’s an extremely helpful and necessary profession, making those dreaded trips to the dentists a lot easier and beneficial for patients.