A dental hygienist metaphorically acts as a dentist's right hand in the area of dental care and preventative dentistry. As such, a dental hygienist is a well-schooled, well-trained and licensed professional.
Dental hygienists provide preventive dental care for patients, including cleaning patients' teeth with stainless steel tools and powered brushes. Aspiring dental hygienists must complete an education program offered by an accredited institution, generally earning an associate's degree or certificate in the process. All dental hygienists must be licensed.
|Required Education||Associate's degree in dental hygiene|
|Licensing||Licensing is mandatory in all states; the exam used is offered by the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||19% for dental hygienists*|
|Median Salary (2015)||$72,330 for dental hygienists*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Dental Hygiene Career Prerequisites
Graduating from high school is the first prerequisite for those who wish to become dental hygiene professionals. High school students interested in studying dental hygiene might choose to enroll in classes like biology, mathematics and chemistry. Generally, admittance to a dental hygiene program requires a favorable grade point average and good scores on standardized college entrance exams. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some schools may require prospective candidates to have finished a year of college before applying to a dental hygiene program (www.bls.gov).
Dental Hygiene Program
Aspiring dental hygienists must complete a dental hygiene program, and most states require that that program be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. The BLS notes that graduates generally earn a certificate or associate's degree in dental hygiene.
Dental hygiene programs usually are two years in length and combine classroom instruction with clinical work in laboratories. Coursework may cover dental anatomy, periodontolgy and radiography. While participating in clinical labs, students typically learn to remove plaque, apply cavity sealants, process x-rays and teach patients proper oral hygiene.
Dental hygiene professionals who wish to advance in their careers may enroll in bachelor's or master's degree programs with the goal of becoming office managers, teachers or researchers. With additional education, hygienists may become fully licensed dentists.
After their education is complete, dental hygienists must be licensed to practice. Although requirements vary from state to state, all states accept the written exam administered by the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. Each state also administers a clinical exam. These tests typically are taken during the final year of study within a dental hygiene program.
Dental hygienists deal with patients and therefore should be good listeners and communicators, in order to accurately assess a patient's dental condition. Additionally, solid manual dexterity and coordination is necessary to treat a patient's teeth.
Salary and Career Outlook for Dental Hygienists
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the fast-growing dental hygienist profession should experience a 19% growth rate between 2014 and 2024. In May 2015, the BLS listed a median salary of $72,330 a year for dental hygienists, with California, New Mexico and District of Columbia listed as the highest-paying states.
A high school diploma is the first prerequisite to become a dental hygienist. The next step is earning an associate's degree, although bachelor's degrees in dental hygiene are available through a few schools. Though specifics may vary by region, all states and the District of Columbia require licensing. A bachelor's or master's degree is mandatory should you wish to teach, do research or practice clinically in a school or public health program.