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How to Start a New Career as a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists assist dentists in providing dental care to patients while also performing dental x-rays and other procedures. If working as a dental hygienist is something that appeals to you, read this informative article on what it takes to become a dental hygienist and what to expect in this career.

What Do Dental Hygienists Do?

Dental hygienists perform a wide variety of tasks throughout the course of a work day. In addition to assisting dentists in their duties, dental hygienists examine patients for dental problems and diseases; clean patient’s teeth; apply fluoride and sealants; take dental x-rays; monitor patient treatment plans and educate patients on how to maintain good dental health.

Dental hygienists may also operate different power, hand and ultrasonic tools such as air-polishing devices, x-ray machines, polishing tools and automatic toothbrushes. Dental hygienists spend many hours standing on their feet and bending over patients.

Educational Requirements

To become a dental hygienist, you must complete a formal training program. Most aspiring dental hygienists complete an associate degree in dental hygiene program. These 2-year programs can be found at technical schools, community colleges, and dental schools.

The training programs include a curriculum of classroom instruction, laboratory classes, and clinical education. In addition, students much complete general education courses. The clinical education is in the form of supervised internships where the student gains experience in patient care.

Although bachelor and master’s degree programs may be available, associate degrees are generally the norm for becoming a dental hygienist. Bachelor degree programs usually require an additional two years of education. The advanced degrees are generally chosen by those who are interested in teaching, research positions or working in clinical practice in school health programs.

Dental hygienist programs often have a selective admissions policy and applicants must meet prerequisite and admission requirements. Aspiring dental hygienists are encouraged to find a dental hygienist school that’s accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association.

Accreditation is important because it’s generally a prerequisite for certification and licensure, which is required in all states. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are about 270 Commission-accredited dental schools in the United States.

What About Licensure/Certification?

All the states require that dental hygienists be licensed before they can work in that state, although the actual licensure requirements may vary from state to state. To be eligible for licensure in most states, the candidate must graduate from an approved dental school and pass both a state clinical board examination and the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE).

The NBDHE exam, usually taken at a Pearson VUE testing site, covers the following three areas: clinical dental hygiene, basic sciences, and community health and research principles. Approximately nine hours is allocated for the national examination. Once the dental hygienist has passed the required examinations, he or she can use the credential Registered Dental Hygienist (R.D.H.).

Additional Requirements

In addition to completing a training program and passing the exams, dental hygienists may also be required to meet the following requirements.

• Pass a jurisprudence examination
• Have CPR certification
• Provide letters of recommendation from dentists in the state the hygienist wants to be licensed
• Provide letters from the boards of dentistry in which the hygienist has obtained licensure
• Provide transcripts from high school and any colleges the student attended

Is Continuing Education Required?

Depending on the state, licenses may be valid from one to three years. To be eligible for licensure renewal, the dental hygienist must complete continuing education credits prior to the renewal date. The hours and type of continuing education required depends on the state as each state has its own requirements.

What Type of Salaries Do Dental Hygienists Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that dental hygienists nationwide earned an average annual wage of $71,110 as of May 2013. Those in the lowest ten percent earned about $47,880 while those in the top ninety percent earned $96,690. The BLS states that the five states where dental hygienists earn the top wages are District of Columbia, California, Washington, Nevada, and Arizona.

According to a report by Salary.com, the average annual wages for dental hygienists was $68,686 as of August 2014. Factors that may affect earnings include years of experience, location, and place of employment.

What is the Career Outlook for Dental Hygienists?

Dental hygienists usually work in specialty dental clinics but may also work in nursing homes, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The job outlook is very good for dental hygienists. According to the BLS, dental hygienists can expect an employment growth of thirty-three percent between 2012 and 2022.

Due to their extensive training, dental hygienists are providing more services so that the dentists can be free to see more patients. As this trend continues, dental hygienists will continue to be in demand.