Dental Hygienist Career

Dental hygienists are qualified health care professionals who work with patients in treating and preventing oral problems. Their focus is to work with dentists and ensure that teeth and gums are well cared for. Dental hygienists can work in any setting - a dental office, schools, hospitals, research and administration. To be able to work in the field, students must graduate from an accredited college, pass a national level exam and also meet state/regional requirements to get certified.

Career as a Dental Hygienist

The career of a dental hygienist is quite an important and challenging one. Hygienists work closely with dentists and help patients take care of their oral health. Hygienists should have good people skills, critical thinking as well as good hand eye coordination as their role in a dental practice is an important one. Each US state has its own set of regulations defining the role and responsibilities of a hygienist. Checking requirements in the state in which one wants to work is essential.

How to get qualified as a Dental Hygienist

Prospective students can enroll in programs available at community colleges, dental schools, technical schools or university. Programs offered at community colleges take 2 years to finish and one can graduate with an associate degree. This prepares hygienists to sit for state or national licensing exams and then go on to work in a dental practice.

Programs available in Universities offer baccalaureate and master’s level degrees. These degrees are 2 years in duration and can lead a person into a regular job or careers in research or teaching. Dental hygienists can work in a clinical practice or sign up to work in public health programs.

Admission requirements vary from school to school. Students should have taken courses in biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics and others. Check requirements of individual schools before signing up. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, a part of the ADA is in charge of dental hygiene programs around the country.

What does a dental hygienist do?

The required range of services vary from state to state. The general list of services which a hygienist provides could include the following:

  • Screening patients and assessing their condition
  • Reviewing records and screening for oral cancer
  • Inspecting head and neck
  • Developing x-ray images after taking them
  • Removing plaque and calculus from teeth
  • Applying fluoride and other sealants to keep teeth healthy
  • Instructing patients on how to care for their teeth (brushing and flossing techniques and also nutritional guidance)
  • Getting impressions of a patient’s teeth so that treatment options can be evaluated and solutions devised
  • Doing paperwork and documenting patient case histories

General work environment:

A career in dental hygiene is rewarding and challenging at the same time. The role of a dental hygienist is like one of an insurance agent - they can arrest serious problems. Their role is one of preventive care.

Satisfaction: One of the biggest advantages of a career in this field is that they work with people from all walks of life. The services they provide are very valuable as oral health has a big impact on general health. Hygienists develop strong relationships with their patients.

Pride in their work: Getting certified as a hygienist is tough as this is a highly skilled disciple. They are valued members of a team and they provide essential care. Anyone certified as a hygienist can work as long as they want as their skills are always in demand.

Variety: Hygienists require a wide set of skills, both personal and clinical as they have to interact with patients as well as assess their health. Hygienists can also choose to work with special groups of people like children, older adults and people with disabilities.

Flexibility: Dental hygienists can work full or part time. They can choose hours which suit them and maintain a good work-life balance. They also have the choice of working for a private practice, in a hospital, work in a research setting or in schools.

Job security: The fact that their services are always needed ensures that they remain relevant. Preventive maintenance and caring for one’s teeth are part of the job description. With an emphasis more than ever on preventive care, dental hygienists are always in demand.

Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists

The need for qualified dental hygienists is expected to grow 33% in the decade 2012 to 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A lot of research being done in the area of oral and general health. This is expected to spur demand for preventive oral health services which are provided primarily by dental hygienists.

As the demand spikes, dentists around the US and other countries are expected to hire more hygienists to perform routine activities. This will help dentists to see more patients and address and help patients with serious health issues. The need to maintain and treat young and aging populations continues to drive the demand for hygienists in the area of dental care.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hygienists have good salaries even if they work part-time. The median salary in 2013 was $71,200. The highest recorded salary earned is $96,700 and the bottom 10% of hygienists earned around $47,800. Most well paid hygienists work in offices. Most of the best paying jobs are in the state of California. All in all, a career as a dental hygienist pays very well and is worth considering.

Dentals schools & colleges by state


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