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RDH - Dental Hygienist: Career Profile

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a registered dental hygienist (RDH). Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Dental hygienists must hold either an associate's or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene, in addition to necessary state licensure. Many hygienists work part-time hours, while most work in public or private dental clinics.

Essential Information

Although their job duties can vary, registered dental hygienists perform such tasks as helping dentists prepare for dental exams, cleaning patients' teeth and advising patients on improving their oral health. Becoming an RDH requires completion of an accredited associate's or bachelor's degree program in dental hygiene that includes both coursework and clinical training. Graduates must also pass state licensing and registration examinations to begin working as dental hygienists.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene
Other Requirements State licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 19%*
Median Salary (2015) $72,330 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Profile

RDHs work with patients to help them develop and maintain good oral health. These professionals may begin care by prepping patients for their dental exams and recording any abnormalities in their teeth or gums. They may also remove deposits from a patient's teeth and apply fluorides. RDHs may also have advanced duties, such as administering local anesthesia and removing sutures.

Education Information

Registered dental hygienists must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school. The most common programs award students with an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Dental hygiene programs integrate clinical, laboratory and classroom learning on topics in periodontology, oral microbiology, dental pharmacology and histology.

Licensure Information

Individual states regulate RDH licensing. While requirements may vary, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that students must pass a written and clinical exam to earn a RDH license. The written exam may be taken through the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (www.ada.org). Clinical exams are administered by each respective state board.

Job Outlook

Most dental hygienists work in private or public dental clinics or dental offices. The ability to create a flexible schedule is an added benefit of this career. The BLS notes that as of 2014, roughly 50% of hygienists worked as part-time employees.

Due to the increasing reliance of dentists on their hygienists, the employment rate for this profession is growing much faster than average. The BLS anticipated a 19% growth in job openings for hygienists from 2014-2024. Older adults are keeping their teeth longer, and people are paying more attention to their dental care, which also will contribute to this growth.

Salary Information

Dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $72,330 as of May 2015. Most of these professionals received yearly wages between $50,140 and $98,440.

Dental hygienists provide preventative dental care to patients under the supervision of a dentist. Prior to practicing, these professionals must first pass a written and clinical exam to earn their RDH license. Perks of this career include flexibility, a high salary and outstanding career prospects.

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