How to Become a Dental Nurse: Education and Career Roadmap

Jan 02, 2019

Learn how to become a dental nurse. Research the job description, education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in dental nursing.

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 0:52 Career Requirements
  • 1:17 Dental Nurse Job Steps

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Should I Become a Dental Nurse?

Dental nurses, known as dental hygienists in the U.S., work in dentists' offices providing teeth cleaning services and preventative care education. The tasks dental hygienists perform vary by state but can include taking x-rays, applying sealants, administering anesthesia and removing sutures. Many hours spent standing or leaning over patients is often required. Some dentists tend to hire dental nurses or hygienists part-time, and many of these professionals who wish to work full-time may find employment in several different offices.

Requirements for this career include completing an accredited dental hygiene associate's degree or certificate program and obtaining licensure. Bachelor's degree programs may also be available.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree or certificate
Degree Field Dental hygiene
Licensure Required in all states
Experience None
Key Skills Attention to detail; good interpersonal skills; dexterity; compassion; ability to operate dental x-ray machinery and use dental instruments
Salary $72,330 (2015 median for all dental hygienists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Key skills required for dental nurses are an attention to detail, good interpersonal skills, dexterity, compassion, and the ability to operate dental x-ray machinery and use dental instruments. Dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of in May 2015 of $72,330, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Dental Nurse Job Steps

Let's look at each step involved in becoming a dental nurse.

Step 1: Complete Prerequisites for Dental Hygiene School

A high school education or the equivalency is a prerequisite for admission to most dental hygiene schools. Some programs also require college entrance exam scores and at least one year of college coursework in English, speech, chemistry and the social sciences. Applicable high school prerequisite courses include mathematics, chemistry and biology.

Step 2: Complete a Dental Hygiene Program

A 2- or 3-year associate degree is usually the minimum necessary qualification for employment in a private dental office. Programs usually include coursework as well as clinical practical sessions. Courses can cover topics such as radiology, oral pathology, oral anatomy, periodontics and nutrition.

According to the BLS, 4-year colleges and universities sometimes offer a bachelor's or master's degree in this area, but these degrees are usually only required for those interested in research or teaching rather than office practice.

Step 3: Obtain Licensure

All aspiring dental hygienists must be licensed prior to seeking employment. Licensing requirements consist of completing an educational program and passing three examinations administered by the American Dental Association's (ADA's) Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations as well as a practical exam administered by the state or region in which they reside. Upon completing these requirements, and any others established by an individual state, candidates can apply to become licensed in that state.

Step 4: Apply for a Position as a Dental Hygienist

Since many dentists only need dental hygienists on a part-time basis, many work either part-time or for more than one dentist. Additionally, although the BLS reported that experience was not required, some employers require, or at least prefer, to hire job applicants that have at least one year of experience. As a result, those who have some clinical experience, even if it's from a school program, will likely have a better chance of being hired than those with none.

Step 5: Join a Professional Organization

Aspiring dental hygienists seeking to advance their careers should consider joining a professional organization, such as the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA), which offers its members professional and educational services, as well as access to career centers and networking opportunities for professional growth and career advancement.

To review what we've learned, dental nurses need a certificate or associate's degree in dental hygiene and licensure is required in all states.

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