How to Become a Dental Hygiene Instructor: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a dental hygiene instructor. Research the education and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in dental hygiene instruction.

Should I Become a Dental Hygienist Instructor?

Dental hygienist instructors train new hygienists at universities, community colleges and other technical institutions. In classrooms and lab settings, they instruct students in techniques to remove stains and tartar, apply sealants and fluorides, take and develop x rays, teach oral care to patients and track patient care and treatment plans. Some classes might be offered during evenings and weekends.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's or master's degree
Degree Field Dental hygiene
Experience 3 to 5 years typically required
Licensure and Certification Dental hygiene license required; CPR certification needed
Key Skills Interpersonal, dexterity and detail-oriented skills, compassion, physical stamina
Salary $50,047 per year (2015 median salary for all dental hygienist instructors

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine, Online Job Postings (July to August 2015), Payscale.com (July 2015)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Dental hygiene instructors typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree, usually in dental hygiene. Before being admitted to a dental hygiene program, which often begins in a student's junior year, some 4-year schools require incoming students to have previously passed college-level courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology and nutrition. Once enrolled, students will receive instruction in such courses as oral anatomy, periodontics and pain management.

Success Tip:

Step 2: Become Licensed as a Dental Hygienist

Anyone who plans to work as a dental hygiene instructor must first gain experience as a dental hygienist. To be employed as a dental hygienist, an applicant needs to be licensed by the appropriate state or regional board. Most states require individuals to have graduated from a dental hygienist program recognized by the Commission on Dental Accreditation before taking written and clinical exams. Additionally, applicants need to show proof that they're CPR certified. The American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the written component, which all states accept. Some states also may require or accept different exams.

Success Tip:

  • Keep dental hygienist license current. Requirements vary by state, but common requirements for license renewal include completing continuing education hours and paying a fee every few years.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Through clinical practicums, dental hygienists gain experience in performing standard tasks. Once hired, they may shadow a more experienced hygienist until they develop proficiency to work one-on-one with patients. For prospective instructors, employers typically require 3 to 5 years of experience as a dental hygienists. Some employers may prefer applicants who also have a background in education or teaching experience.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional association. Participation in a professional association, such as the American Dental Hygienists Association, and becoming active in a local chapter is a great way to network and learn about job leads.

Step 4: Pursue Additional Education for Career Advancement

Instructors can find graduate programs at a university's dental school, such as a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene. Graduate study typically allows students to complete more fieldwork experiences, which involve hands-on practice and research. Some programs allow students to complete fieldwork at public or government health facilities or dental educational programs. Employers may also prefer applicants with a master's degree in health education. Programs such as these can be completed online to accommodate working professionals.

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