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Should I Become a Dental Hygienist or a Dental Assistant?

In this economy, trying to pick a career can be a very daunting task. With President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, economists and other professionals state that there is going to be a steep increase in the demand for healthcare services, creating more healthcare related jobs.

According to an article published by the Huffington Post, “Whether or not President Obama’s health care reform law survives its Supreme Court challenge, the number of jobs in health care is poised to boom over the next decade, according to a report released Thursday. The positions, however, will do little to alleviate the jobs crisis among the nation’s unskilled workers. Healthcare will continue to grow fastest and provide some of the best paying jobs in the nation,” the authors wrote in the report. “But the people in these jobs will increasingly require higher levels of education to enter the field and continuous certification once they are in.”

Become a Dental Hygienist

With demand for health care growing at a rate twice that of the national economy, the industry is on track to create 5.6 million new jobs by 2020, according to a new study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce.

One type of healthcare job involves dental work; however, you do not need to become a dentist in order to have a lucrative career. There are two main types of careers that assist dentists in clinical settings. These jobs are dental hygienists and dental assistants.

Dental assistants have less schooling to complete, but also make less money than dental hygienists. However, because assistants need to attend less schooling, there is less of a financial investment in becoming an assistant. The tradeoff is complicated, but it remains true that entering into the healthcare field for your career, especially in the dental field, will be a lucrative decision. According to one source, the breakdown of the differences between the two roles are highlighted below.

Become a Dental Assistant
In order to become a dental assistant, you will have to receive a certificate or a diploma. Dental assistants typically perform the following tasks:

•Working closely with patients before, during and after procedures
•Assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
•Taking and developing x-rays
•Preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
•Taking impressions of patients’ teeth for study casts (models of teeth)
•Teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies
•Performing office management

The following steps can be taken in order to become a dental assistant:

1. Complete your high school studies
2. Graduate from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA accredited) dental assisting program
3. Get hired as a dental assistant and complete a minimum of two years practical work experience under the supervision of a licensed dentist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The median annual wage for dental assistants was $34,500 in May 2012. Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 25 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will likely continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services.”

Becoming a Dental Hygienist
In order to become a dental hygienist, you will have to receive an Associate’s (2-year college degree) or a Bachelor’s degree (a 4-year college degree)depending on the job placement. Dental hygienists typically perform the following tasks:

•Collecting information about the patient’s oral and medical health history
•Removing calculus, stains and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth
•Making molds of patients’ teeth used for evaluating treatment
•Charting patients’ dental conditions for the dentist
•Applying fluorides and decay preventatives
•Administering local anesthetics
•Removing sutures and dressings

The following steps can be taken in order to become a dental hygienist:

1. Complete your high school studies and take the ACT/SAT exam
2. Apply for and complete a dental hygiene degree program
3. Apply to take the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination
4. Apply for state license
5. Pass your state clinical exam

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $70,210 in May 2012. Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 33 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health to general health will continue to spur demand for preventative dental services, which are often provided by dental hygienists.”