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How to Become a Dental Hygienist in Nebraska

To become a dental hygienist in Nebraska, you must have a license, and before you can become licensed, you must have at least an associate’s degree from an accredited college. Bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene are available, as are master’s degrees, but these degrees are meant to prepare students to do research and perhaps teach at the college level. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is also required to gain clinical experience in professional health programs. Some programs require dental hygiene students to have at least a year of college experience before enrolling, and students can prepare themselves while in high school by taking chemistry and math classes.

Dental Hygienist Requirements
Each dental hygiene program has different requirements, and these requirements also vary by degree. For example, a four-year dental hygiene degree doesn’t require any previous education or training, while a two-year degree usually requires several science prerequisites, such as general algebra, trigonometry, chemistry and biology courses. Most colleges accept the high school equivalents of these courses to meet the requirements. In a dental hygiene program, students are required to take general health courses, such as physiology, anatomy, nutrition, and radiography. They also must study Periodontology, which is the branch of dentistry related to gum disease.

Becoming a licensed dental hygienist is the same as becoming licensed in other health care occupations, such as nursing, physical therapy, and nutrition. Nebraska has the same requirements as most other states, and before you can become licensed, you must obtain your degree from a college accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association. After graduating, you must pass the National Board of Hygiene Exam as well as Nebraska’s state clinical board exam. Once you have met these requirements, you can contact the Nebraska state licensing authority to request a license application. The board will review your application to make sure you meet the requirements, and you will receive your license when they reach their decision.

To become certified, it helps to have a few extra credentials completed before applying. The American Dental Hygienist Association recommends completing the Nebraska state jurisprudence exam as well as becoming certified to perform CPR. You should have a letter of recommendation from a licensed dentist in Nebraska, and you should gather your high school and college transcripts in case they’re requested. Any other paperwork, such as letters of correspondence from the Nebraska board of dentistry, should also be at hand. You may be denied the right to take a licensing examination if you have been convicted of a serious misdemeanor or felony. The Nebraska Board of Dentistry conducts a background check on all applicants and makes a decision to grant or deny licensure on a case-by-case basis.

Continuing Education
To practice dental hygiene, you don’t need to complete any continuing education after obtaining your license, but you do need to obtain a master’s degree to do medical research, give lectures or teach online or on-campus courses. To practice clinical healthcare in a public or college health program, you also must obtain a master’s degree as well as a state license. In a master’s program, you will divide your time about evenly for lectures and clinical study, shadowing a hygienist in a clinical environment. Depending on your career goals, you may be able to choose where your clinical study takes place.

Dental Hygienist Salary in Nebraska
Dental hygiene is one of the highest-paying jobs that require only an associate’s degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $70,210 in 2012, with the top-earning 10 percent taking home at least $96,280 per year. Many hygienists receive bonuses in addition to their salaries, including 401K investments, vacation time and sick leave. These extra benefits normally only apply to full-time employees, however, and most dental hygienists work only part time.

The Dental Hygienist’s Duties
The job requirements of dental hygienists are demanding enough to be worth the large salary. Hygienists perform all the duties that can be done without a medical degree, and they assist dentists with tasks that require more than one pair of hands. Some of their duties include cleaning tartar, plaque, and stains from patients’ teeth, coating teeth in sealants and fluoride, taking dental X-rays, reviewing patient treatment plans and educating patients on proper oral hygiene and dental care, such as the correct way to brush and floss.

What Tasks is a Dental Hygienist Legally Allowed to Perform?
Nebraska law restricts some of the duties dental hygienists can perform, though it does state that anyone — even someone who isn’t licensed — can perform basic dental assistant duties under the supervision of a licensed dentist. To administer nitrous oxide for oral surgery, hygienists must have a valid CPR certificate, and special certification is also needed to perform coronal polishing. Nebraska allows all licensed dental hygienists to cast molds for dentures, polish amalgams, apply dental bonding agents, cement brackets and perform most other duties related to dentures and cavity treatment.