According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 207K dental hygienists working in the United States, and that number is expected to increase by more than 40K over the next eight years. This makes a career as a dental hygienist one of the fastest growing careers in the country. BLS also reports that the median salary for a dental hygienist is $74K annually, considerably higher than the average wage.
A dental hygienist is in charge of cleaning patients' teeth (including removing plaque and tartar), taking x-rays, assisting dentists with oral surgeries, and administering fluoride treatments. You may provide dental services for both children and adults. You can also provide educational lessons in dentistry, oral assessments, and therapeutic and preventative services for patients. You work under the immediate supervision of a qualified dentist.
To become a dental hygienist, you must earn a minimum of a two-year certification or an associate degree in an accredited dental hygiene program, and you must become licensed by your home state. If you receive an advanced degree, though, there will be more employment opportunities available for you.
As noted, dental hygienists must earn a minimum of a certification or an associate degree from an institution accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
CODA is the main authoritative body on all dental accreditation. When you receive your degree or certification through a CODA-accredited institution, you will be qualified to receive your state dental hygienist licensure. This qualifies you to work in your home state.
Before taking dental hygienist classes, you must earn your high school diploma or GED. From there, you can choose either a two- or three-year dental hygiene certification program, a two-year Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene degree program, or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree program. You may also continue your education and earn your master's degree if you are thinking about becoming an instructor.
While completing your certification or degree, you will learn the theory, practice and techniques of dental hygiene, dental pharmacology, local anesthesia, and oral pathology and periodontology.
While your dental hygienist classes will vary greatly depending on what institution you choose to enroll in and what program you decide to take on, the following classes are typical for an Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene:
- Oral biology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Dental health and clinical dental hygiene
- Dental materials (such as fillings, crowns, bridges, and implants)
- Nutrition in dentistry
- Dental pharmacology and anesthesiology
- Public health
The above course outline is only a sample and may differ from the course outline of other dental hygiene programs.
Remember, after you earn your certification or degree in dental hygiene, you must apply for the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and take it, as well as earn your state licensure through your state's dental board before you can begin working as a dental hygienist. The exact application requirements vary, so be sure to check the website of your state dental board. Licensure is required in all 50 states.
Many dental hygienists choose to work in a dentist office or a dental urgent care facility, but if you earn an advanced degree, you may choose to become involved in dental research, teaching, public health, or work in a school or hospital clinic.
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