If you’re interested in a rewarding healthcare career working directly with patients, becoming a dental hygienist may be an excellent choice. Dental hygiene is one of the fastest-growing occupations, with excellent job prospects. This ultimate guide covers how to become a dental hygienist and launch a standout career in oral healthcare.
What Dental Hygienists Do
Dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals who provide preventive care and educate patients on proper oral hygiene. Their day-to-day duties include:
- Cleaning teeth by removing tartar, plaque and stains
- Applying sealants and fluorides to protect teeth
- Taking dental x-rays
- Performing head and neck exams to check for issues
- Educating patients on brushing, flossing, nutrition
- Helping dentists manage medical emergencies
Dental hygienists work closely with dentists to promote better individual and public dental health outcomes. They enjoy rewarding work and close relationships with patients.
To become a dental hygienist requires completing an accredited dental hygiene program. These are typically associate degree programs lasting around 3 years. Some bachelor’s degree programs in dental hygiene also exist.
Coursework covers areas like anatomy, pathology, radiography, periodontics, pharmacology, dental materials, ethics, and clinical skills. Programs require a certain number of supervised clinical practice hours.
After graduating from a dental hygiene program, students must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. All states then require passing a state or regional clinical dental hygiene exam for licensure.
Licensing and Certification
Completing an accredited dental hygiene program and passing examinations are required for licensure in all states. Licensure must be renewed periodically by completing continuing education credits.
Many dental hygienists pursue voluntary certification through the Dental Assisting National Board for added qualifications. Certifications are available in areas like oral cancer screening and local anesthesia administration.
Key Skills and Qualities
Succeeding as a dental hygienist requires certain innate skills and personal qualities:
- Excellent dexterity and hand-eye coordination
- Conscientiousness and precision
- Interpersonal and communication abilities
- Capacity to stand for long periods
- Detail-oriented mindset
- Ability to reassure anxious patients
- Desire to help improve patients’ health
Dental hygienists must be kind and cheerful with patients, have stamina for long procedures, be organized, and work well as a team with dentists.
Most dental hygienists work in established dental offices alongside dentists. They spend much of their day on their feet, bending to reach patients’ mouths for cleaning. Hygienists wear protective gear like masks, gloves, and eyewear.
The ability to stand, sit, and bend for prolonged periods is crucial. Most hygienists work part-time schedules, which offers flexibility. Some may also work for dental equipment or product manufacturers, do sales, or teach.
Career and Salary Outlook
Employment for dental hygienists is projected to grow 11% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than average. Increased demand for dental care and prevention as well as older populations will drive job opportunities.
In 2021, the median pay for dental hygienists was $77,950 annually or $37.45 per hour. The top 10% of earners made over $102,000. Given the short training time, dental hygiene offers an accessible route to an excellent healthcare career.
Advancing Your Career
With experience, dental hygienists can advance into supervisory roles, teaching positions, school administration, public health programs, research, and consulting.
Some obtain master’s degrees to teach dental hygiene at universities. Additional avenues include writing for industry publications, speaking at conferences, and volunteering overseas on dental missions.
Becoming a Dental Hygienist
With outstanding job prospects and rewarding day-to-day work, dental hygiene is an excellent career choice. By following the steps in this guide, you can gain the education and licensure needed to embark on an exciting, high-growth career as a dental professional.
Great Place to Start
For those interested in launching a dental hygiene career in the Easton, PA area, Haddad Dental Associates is a great place to start. Haddad Dental Associates prides themselves on nurturing dental hygienists through their initial licensing and providing ongoing mentoring. Their experienced dentists and friendly team create a supportive environment for new dental hygienists to gain valuable clinical experience. At Haddad Dental Associates, you’ll be able to sharpen your skills in a modern dental office alongside caring professionals dedicated to patients’ oral health. With competitive pay and benefits, Haddad Dental Associates is the perfect setting to grow your dental hygiene career in the Easton community. Check their website for current dental hygienist openings.