If you have excellent communication skills and have a passion for helping people look after their teeth and gums, then you should consider pursuing a career in dental hygiene. With the growth of preventive dental care in America, the Bureau Labor of Statistics (BLS) expects the demand for registered dental hygienists (RDHs) to grow by 40 percent within the next 10 years. If you live in West Virginia and would like to become an RDH, try your best to follow these important steps:
Step 1: Complete Your High School Studies
The most important step toward becoming an RDH is completing your high school education. High school-level courses such as English, mathematics, psychology, chemistry, and biology play a vital role in shaping a dental hygiene career. In addition, for you to join a good dental school in West Virginia, you must have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate.
Step 2: Take Your SAT or ACT Exams
Most technical and community colleges offering dental hygiene programs in West Virginia require students to complete college entrance exams such as SAT and ACT. These exams are used by the colleges to determine whether they’ll accept you or not. If you pass the exams, you may be lucky to get financial support or a scholarship to help you achieve your career goals.
Step 3: Complete Your Dental Hygiene Coursework
Depending on your preferences, you can apply for a two-year certificate or associate’s program at a technical college, 2-year applied sciences associate’s degree program or a 4-year university associate’s/bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. Before you settle on any of these courses, make sure that it is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and that it can help you pass the National Dental Hygiene Examinations.
Step 4: Complete Additional Training (Optional)
If you are interested in working in oral disease prevention and health promotion or teaching future dental hygienists, you can pursue a master’s degree in dental hygiene. You may complete this advanced degree either before you start looking for employment or after working in the field for a few years.
While a certificate or an associate’s degree is typically sufficient to help you find a job in an office setting, a more advanced degree is very important, especially if you are interested in working in a public health clinic, a school clinic or in a research setting.
Step 5: Meet the West Virginia State Licensing Requirements
Before you start working as a dental hygienist in West Virginia, you must get a license from the relevant authorities. To earn a license, you have to pass an exam comprising of clinical and written components, which are administered by the West Virginia Board of Dental Examiners and the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations of the American Dental Association respectively. The exam is a bit challenging, so you have to prepare adequately before taking it.
If you fail the exam on the first sitting, you can be allowed to attempt a retest after 90 days. If you fail three consecutive times, you must wait twelve months before retesting.
Step 6: Apply for RDH Jobs
After getting your license, you are free to start searching for a job in your area of specialization. Apart from looking for a supportive employer who will mentor you during the first months of employment, you should also think about getting good salary. According to BLS, the average salary of a dental hygienist is $75,000 per year for starters and $98,000 per year for professionals. If you graduate from a highly regarded school or have advanced knowledge, expect to earn more.
One of the best ways to look for a job is by searching through online or newspaper classified ads. Before doing so, it is advisable to equip yourself with computer skills. This is because many dental offices and facilities in West Virginia are switching to digital technology in order to serve patients with the utmost efficiency and professionalism.
You can also look for a job by attending conferences and job fairs that will enable you to get in touch with more experienced dentists and potential employers. Talk to at least two or three people at every conference you attend and make arrangements to meet them in person. You might be lucky to get a job or a referral to someone who can help you.
To increase your chances of getting a job, drop your resume to various dental hygienist offices within your locality. Give some copies of your resume to a number of concerned friends and relatives who can help you distribute them to other towns and cities. Your resume should be accompanied by a cover letter detailing what you are capable of doing if employed.