How To Become A Dental Hygienist - Questions Answered
Is becoming a dental hygienist a good career choice? Is there room for one more dental hygienist in America? How to become a dental hygienist? Hopefully the information in this article and on this site will help answer your questions about this profession.
The US News and World report chose "dental hygienist" as one of the top healthcare careers in 2011. If you go by Bureau of Labor Statistics data (number of dental hygienist jobs is expected to grow 36% from 2008 to 2018), there's a lot of opportunities for professionals in this field.
You just need to be equipped with the skills, get the necessary hands-on training and earn your certification to become part of the work force. First off, there are some questions you'll need to ask yourself:
Are You Suited For The Job?
It's extremely important that this job is a match with your personality. Regrets can be costly when you've gone through the dental hygienist training only to realize it is not fit for you. Patience is a virtue and you'll need lots of it in this job.
Think about this: more than half the people who come to dental clinics are afraid, uncomfortable or just have no choice in the matter. So your people skills is half the battle to ensure the visits are as pleasant an experience as possible.
A dental hygienist does more than just clean teeth. Sure that's a big part of the job. But it also involves educating patients, and conducting a thorough exam to check if there are oral abnormalities that need to be treated or referred to the dentist.
Scraping away at plaque, removing stains on the teeth, applying flouride and polishing are very routine. And can you honestly stand poking at someone's mouth for extended periods of time?
Observe a dental hygienist at work. Talk to someone who's been doing the job. Is the training paying off in terms of rewards? Are opportunities in your area motivating enough? What are the perks? And the pitfalls? Forewarned is forearmed, it's say. That's true even with dental hygienist careers.
What Are The Prerequisites To Become A Dental Hygienist?
Every career starts with education. It's a good foundation. But it goes further than the actual dental hygiene program you choose. Although there are diploma or certificate programs that can be completed in a year, most dental hygienist schools require that you've had one or two years of college.
It's preparatory, so you can do away with general subjects and just focus on courses relative to the field once you are admitted to the dental hygiene program.
A dental hygienist needs a license to practice. And to get this, you have to pass both the written and clinical examinations. Each state has their own regulations regarding this profession and it will be better to know all these in advance so you can prepare for them adequately.
Get as much hands-on experience as possible while still training. This is ultimately your best weapon when looking for a job. Likewise, your willingness to learn and ability to pick up quickly are traits that most employers are looking for.
Associate Or Bachelor Degree?
You can't become a dental hygienist without formal training. That means either an associate degree completed in two years, or the four-year Bachelor degree in Dental Hygiene. Whichever one you choose, they usually require one or two years of prior college courses.
A two-year difference in education means a lot, especially in terms of cost. You can enroll in community or technical colleges for the associate degree programs. If you want to earn a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree, then you will want to check out universities.
Because of the prerequisite college courses, especially in mathematics, chemistry, biology and English, there are certain bachelor programs that can be completed in three years.
What do you learn in dental hygienist classes? Curricula include classroom, laboratory and clinical instruction. You will take up anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition as general subjects, and then learn histology, periodontology, pathology, dental materials, and clinical dental hygiene.
So which is better? As most professionals will tell you, dentists hardly pay attention to the type of degree you hold. What they are concerned about is that you are a licensed or registered dental hygienist, skilled, and willing to put in the hours needed to keep their business going.
Neither will a bachelor degree holder get paid more than one who only finished the two year program. It's your competence you'll be compensated for and the steady stream of patients you bring in through your work that matters. Either way, the average dental hygienist salary for these professionals ranges from $56,235 to $71,080.
So why take up the BS degree? If you're looking at a future doing research, teaching, or administration, this is the ideal program for you. Likewise, dental hygienists who work in schools or for a public dental education programs are usually required to have a bachelor degree.
Associate or bachelor, set your dental hygienist career goals first then decide. Whatever the decision, just make sure the program is recognized by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. This is crucial because only those graduating from accredited programs are qualified for the certification and licensure exams.
Part-Time Or Full-Time Work?
You'll be surprised that almost half of dental hygienists in America work part-time only. And the arrangement does not exactly mean they are shortchanged. In fact, the flexible schedule is one of the attractions of the profession.
Preventive oral health care is the primary function of a dental hygienist. For this kind of work, employers can hire them to come in two to three times a week, during evenings or weekends.
You can be paid hourly (the most common), a daily rate or a salary. Depending on the location and work setting you can receive a low of $15 to $20 an hour or the average of $30 per hour. Long time hygienists can earn as much as $50 per hour even on a part-time basis.
If you can make just as much working part-time, why find full-time employment? Because dental clinics or dentist's offices aren't the only workplaces for these professionals.
The dental hygienist career includes working in school systems, public health organizations and government agencies. With these employment opportunities, you are expected to provide more in terms of oral health care education and must be reporting on full-time basis.
It is very encouraging that the profession offers a choice in terms of how much you want to work and the times you can put in yet still be paid top dollar. You will be even more motivated should you find an employer, especially in private dental practice, that offers commissions for meeting their monthly income targets. These often offset benefits not provided to part-time workers.
Are There Work-Related Injuries To Look Out For?
Physically, you need stamina to take on the job of a dental hygienist. It is no joke to be on your feet most of the time, even with it's four or five hours of work.
Your legs, neck, back and shoulders will take the brunt of it as you maneuver around a small orifice like the mouth that needs a lot of tending. It's also one reason why part-time work is ideal so you don't strain yourself too much especially when your schedule for regular cleaning and check-ups are always packed.
One thing most dental hygienists complain about down the road is the carpal tunnel syndrome. Manual dexterity is crucial for this kind of job. It's not just maneuvering through very limited space as you work around the mouth, but having to exert pressure when necessary to fight plaque and tartar.
Thirty to forty minutes of turning and twisting your wrist and hand at a time will take its toll unless you take care of yourself very well.
What Specific Skills Do I Need For The Job
Good communication skills and the ability to persuade is also necessary to handle dental patients. Educating people about oral health care can be taxing especially when they tend to give the matter little attention.
At the same time, both children and adults need to be convinced that their trip to the dentist is as essential as a regular medical check up to stay healthy. Once you develop rapport with patients, the more you are able to sustain the business aspect of the profession.
Make sure you also have adequate training to perform dental x-ray tests and other laboratory procedures. If your education can cover administering anesthetics, placing and carving dental fillings and even removing sutures, you will give yourself an edge over the competition.
So, do you think you have what it takes to be a dental hygienist? If you've decided, use our dental hygienist school search directory to find accredited dental hygienist programs near you or simply click the link below to request free information from dental hygienist schools.
If you are already in this profesison and have advice for those thinking about becoming a dental hygienist, please share your comments below.
Become a Dental Hygienist |