Be a Hygienist Assistant: Education and Career Roadmap

Aug 24, 2018

Find out how to become a hygienist assistant. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in dental hygiene assisting.

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  • 0:00 Become a Hygienist Assistant
  • 0:59 Complete a Dental…
  • 1:22 Pass a State Licensing Exam
  • 1:40 Complete On-the-Job Training
  • 2:18 Become Certified

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Become a Hygienist Assistant

Hygienist assistants provide assistance to dental hygienists. This can include preparing patients for treatment, sterilizing tools and equipment, passing tools during procedures, suctioning to keep patients' mouths dry, educating patients about dental care and scheduling appointments. This position is sometimes filled by graduates of dental hygiene programs who have not yet completed their hygienist licensing. Assistants often spend many work hours standing and leaning over patients.

Hygienist assistants need to exhibit good interpersonal skills and attention to detail. They must be able to use common dental tools and take impressions of patients' teeth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that dental assistants made a mean annual salary of $36,920 as of May 2015.

Degree Level Certificate or associate's degree is usually required
Degree Field Dental assisting
Certification/Licensure Some states require licensing or certification exams
Experience Entry-level position, but experience can be gained during externships or via on-the-job training
Key Skills Good interpersonal skills and attention to detail; ability to use common dental tools and take impressions of patients' teeth
Salary $36,920 mean annual wage as of May 2015 for dental assistants

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Let's explore how to become a hygienist assistant.

Step 1: Complete a Dental Assisting Program

Prospective dental assistants are usually expected to have an Associate of Applied Science or certificate in dental assisting. Many community colleges and trade schools offer dental assisting programs, which typically include courses in patient care, dental instrument care, sterilization and dental cleaning.

Step 2: Pass a State Licensing Exam

Some states require that dental assistants to pass a licensing or certification exam after completing an accredited education program. Aspiring dental assistants should check with their state board of dentistry to verify any requirements.

Step 3: Complete On-The-Job Training

Dental assistants are primarily responsible for taking and developing x-rays, making sure the patient is comfortable, sterilizing and preparing equipment and making impressions of patients' teeth for molds. Although an accredited dental assistant training program can provide students with a background of knowledge and technical expertise, a great deal of a new assistant's training occurs while on the job. Daily handling of instruments, interaction with patients and performing common office tasks familiarizes assistants with many of the issues they will encounter over the course of their careers.

Step 4: Become Certified

Not all states require that dental assistants be certified, but certification can lead to career advancement and a higher salary. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers certifications that are recognized in the majority of states. Most assistants who graduate from a dental assistant training program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) are eligible to take a DANB-administered certification exam. Professional assistants with at least two years of full-time experience are also eligible to take the exam.

Remember, to become a hygienist assistant you'll likely need a certificate or associate's degree in dental assisting. You also might need state licensure, and certification could lead to better job opportunities.

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