If you've ever had an unpleasant experience at the dentist, you may know the importance of dental hygienists. Being treated by someone skilled and pleasant with steady hands can ensure that patients return to the dentist for regular care. Studies have revealed that since taking good care of your teeth may improve your overall health, getting dental care is more important than ever. Dental hygienists may play a crucial role in the fight to keep your smile bright and healthy.
With dental hygienist training, good manual dexterity, and the ability to work closely with others, you may find well-paying, meaningful employment working directly with people to improve their lives.
Dental Hygienist School: What to Expect
As a dental hygienist, you may perform a variety of tasks alone or at the dentist's side. You may:
- Examine patients' mouths for oral health
- Clean patients' teeth
- Teach oral self-care such as flossing, brushing, quitting smoking, and a healthy diet
- Provide preventative care such as fluoride treatments and sealants
Traditional and online dental hygienist courses may teach you all this and more, including how to administer anesthetics, fill cavities, remove stitches, and take X-rays. The tools you may be using include hand tools, rotary instruments, ultrasonic devices, and X-ray machines. Learning safety protocol for you and your patients will be a high priority.
Dental hygienist degree programs may require a high school diploma and college entrance exam scores. You may also benefit from taking mathematics, biology, and chemistry courses in high school, as well as completing one year of college, before applying.
For work in a private dental office, you may only need a two-year associate's degree or certificate. The exact tasks you'll perform vary according to the laws of each state. If you're looking to run your own business, or work in public health, research, administration, or education, you may need a bachelor's or master's degree, which take four to six years to pursue Many dental hygiene schools require internships where you can practice your new skills in a professional periodontal setting.
Career Options for Dental Hygienist School Graduates
Once you've graduated from an accredited dental hygienist school, you must pass a national written exam and a practical state exam to get licensed to practice as an RDH (registered dental hygienist). 96 percent of graduates with associate's degrees find work in private clinics where they spend their days cleaning and examining teeth and teaching patients to care for their own teeth. Other employers may include hospitals, nursing homes, schools, correctional facilities, and corporate settings. Half of RDHs work part-time in one or more offices.
Alternately, you may start with an advanced degree or upgrade to one after your associate's. With a bachelor's or master's degree, you might work in research on topics such as the effects of oral health on pregnancy or the efficacy of health education campaigns. You'd coordinate people and tasks to make studies run smoothly, screen patients to see if they meet clinical trial criteria, and compile data.
As an educator, you might use your skills at a university, high school, public health clinic, or corporate setting, teaching students in the classroom, the clinic, or on the computer, if you work for one of the online degree programs for dental hygienists.
A public health job could be working for the state assessing the oral health of grade school children and implementing programs to improve it. Or you could use your advanced degree and some years of experience to open your own periodontal business. There are also many opportunities to work as an RDH abroad.
Salary Outlook for Dental Hygienist School Degree Holders
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean annual wage for dental hygienists is $67,860 (based on full-time employment), with the top five highest paying states being Alaska, Washington, California, Nevada, and Oregon. Those with bachelor's and master's degrees can expect higher pay. With a projected growth rate of 36 percent through 2018, dental hygienists have excellent job prospects overall.
Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, or salary basis -- or on commission. Most of the 50 percent of hygienists who work full-time receive benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, retirement plans, and sick leave.
A flexible schedule, great pay, excellent job outlook, the opportunity for continued education and advancement, and the skills to improve people's immediate comfort and overall health are some of the reasons why becoming a dental hygienist might just put a smile on your face.