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How to Become a Dental Hygienist in Alabama

What is Dental Hygienist?
Dental hygienists spend the majority of their workday in direct contact with patients. They review a patient’s oral history, clean and polish teeth, give advice on proper dental hygiene, take x-rays of teeth and develop the film. In addition to working with patients, they have other duties that may vary from one dental office to another. They see that their instruments remain sharp, whether that means using a sharpening stone or sending them to an outside company for sharpening. They make sure their equipment is running properly, and they flush out the lines. They follow procedures to ensure that the dental office is compliant with OSHA regulations. For example, they test the autoclave, a device that sterilizes instruments. After performing tests on the autoclave or any other equipment, they document the test results. When they have occasional free time, as when a patient fails to show up for an appointment, they assist the office staff with answering phones, scheduling appointments and confirming appointments.

Someone who wants to work as a dental hygienist in Alabama must pass a state licensing examination. The educational requirement for taking the examination is an associate’s degree from a program accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation or a non-degree program offered by the Board of Dental Examiners in Alabama.

High school students interested in pursuing a career as a dental hygienist can get a head start by taking courses such as biology and chemistry. They can begin working on skills such as manual dexterity and good communication. Another valuable skill they can develop is a willingness to work in a team setting, since a dental hygienist is a member of a team consisting of the dentist, the dental assistant and the dental hygienist.

Admission Requirement
Admission to an accredited dental hygienist program requires a high school diploma, GED or Alabama occupational diploma. Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama, offers an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene. It is the only public school in Alabama offering a program that meets the American Dental Association’s accreditation requirements. The program includes general required courses such as Fundamentals of Oral Communication, Human Anatomy & Physiology, General Microbiology and Mathematical Applications. Courses specific to dental hygiene include Dental Hygiene Theory, Dental Radiology, Periodontology, and Clinical Dental Hygiene. Wallace State Community College has a cooperative program with 16 other colleges and universities within the state where students can complete some of their dental hygiene prerequisite classes before enrolling at Wallace State. Bishop State Community College, Central Alabama Community College, and the University of West Alabama are among the schools taking part in this cooperative program.

Another educational option for someone who wishes to become a dental hygienist in Alabama is a non-degree program offered by the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama. It takes one year to complete the program, and the cost is less than the cost of a degree program. Graduates of this program can practice in Alabama only.

Licensing
Anyone wishing to work as a dental hygienist in Alabama must obtain a license from the state. The first step is to complete an Alabama Board of Dental Examiners application form (http://www.dentalboard.org/licensure2b.htm) according to the instructions on the dental board’s website. The application must include a passport photograph, documentation of hepatitis B immunizations, documentation of current CPR status, documentation of completion of infectious disease training, official transcripts, copy of national board scores (if applicable) and payment for fees. In-state applicants must provide proof of residency. The board defines in-state applicants as those who have lived in Alabama for at least one year. Proof of in-state residency is a current Alabama driver’s license and a current voter registration card. Out-of-state applicants must have a background check completed by the agency specified on the dental board’s website.

Continuing Education
Dental hygienist license renewal requires 12 continuing education hours per year, 6 hours of which can be online. The 12 hours can include annually a maximum of 4 hours on courses related to insurance and government regulations and a maximum of 6 hours on restorative dentistry. Biannual requirements include 2 continuing education hours on infection control in dentistry and a CPR course. Dental hygienists can receive credit for up to 4 continuing education hours annually for charitable work at non-profit clinics; four hours of service counts as one continuing education hour.

Dental Hygienist Salary in Alabama
The average annual salary for a dental hygienist in Alabama in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $46,530. Job opportunities for dental hygienists nationwide are likely to increase by 33% over the next ten years.