Is a Career in Dental Hygiene Right for Me?

Is a Career in Dental Hygiene Right for Me?

Deciding on a career path can be a daunting task. Whether you are a high school senior or want to change careers, you face the pressure of choosing the right direction for your future. Assuming you already considered your interests, skills, and values you want to see if they match a career in dental hygiene.

In this article, we’ll explore what it takes to become a dental hygienist, what the day-to-day job is like, and what skills and interests are required. We further explore if there are jobs and what income you can expect from this profession. Let’s get started!

What do dental hygienists do?

In short, a dental hygienist helps clients to keep their teeth clean and their mouths healthy. For that, she cooperates closely with dentists and dental assistants or technicians.

In more detail, a dental hygienist:

– reviews the dental history of a patient

– assesses oral health risks

– takes into account any dental history, allergies, or medication

– screens the patient for cavities or tooth decay

– conducts dental cleanings

– removes plaque, tartar, or stains from teeth

– takes X-rays to assess tooth problems that are not visible on the surface

– applies preventative care, such as fluoridation or sealants

– teaches clients daily practices to improve oral health

– documents any findings, as well as all care applied to the patient

Most dental hygienists see their patients in a dental practice and in connection with a review appointment with the dentist. That means communication with the entire team is important.

A dental hygienist schedules the appointments. This means she must perform their work in a timely manner and switch patients many times during the day.

Essential attributes for success

As a dental Hygienist, you will become a respected professional that provides oral health services to clients. You will work in a team with dentists, dental assistants, and technicians.

Interpersonal Skills

As a dental hygienist, you will communicate with clients about their dental care. You will give feedback to patients about their efforts to keep their teeth and mouth healthy.

Some communication is simpler, such as making the next appointment or sending reminders.

Empathy and Compassion

Many clients are uneasy about feedback on their oral care. Such personal conversations can feel awkward. You will need to gain the trust of your patients, so they allow you to give advice. If you communicate your findings with empathy you will more likely succeed.

Your goal is to show compassion, but also make clear what are the consequences of poor dental hygiene.

Furthermore, you will teach proper techniques to keep teeth and gums healthy.

Attention to Detail

Oral care starts with a careful analysis and devising a plan of action.

The evaluation of a client’s current oral health requires observation and measurements. It will be your responsibility to document the results of the evaluation. Such documentation must be correct and complete.

Any corrective measure, such as cleaning teeth, requires many steps. You will perform each step must as necessary and with great care. Mistakes can hurt the client.

All this requires professional attention to detail in performing dental hygiene procedures.

Physical Dexterity

Dental cleaning is a delicate procedure, that can involve significant force.

You will use mechanical instruments to scrape tartar or plaque and polish teeth. Using such instruments, in the confined space of a patient’s mouth, requires fine motor skills.

Degrees & Courses for Dental Hygiene

Dental Hygiene is a licensed profession. To practice dental hygiene you need a license from the state. Each US state has its own requirements to grant a license. The main requirements for a license are an appropriate degree and a board examination.

Colleges and Universities offer three levels of degrees:

– Associate’s degree

– Bachelor’s degree

– Master’s degree

Associate’s Degree – 2-Years

An associate’s degree is the minimum requirement to become registered as a dental hygienist.

Typically, the associate degree requires a 2-year program of studies. Such studies are expected to be full-time.

An associate’s program prepares you for the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.

Bachelor’s Degrees – 4-Years

Typically, a bachelor’s degree requires four years of full-time studies. The coursework includes advanced subjects, such as management, leadership, or forensic dentistry.

Salary levels are not significantly affected by the longer studies. However, some employers prefer advanced education.

It may also be a requirement for graduate school.

Master’s Degrees – Graduate Studies

Only graduate schools offer master’s programs in dental hygiene. Completing a master’s program is often the key to educational positions.

Earning a master’s degree increases your likely salary.

Registered Dental Hygienist – State License

All US states require you to register as a dental hygienist professional. While each state has its specific license practices, common requirements are:

– National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) scores

– Final official transcripts from an accredited dental hygiene program

– If licensed in other states, a certificate of “good standing” from the other states licensing body

– Proof of first aid training such as CPR or use of an AED

In most states, licensing or registration carries a fee.

Furthermore, you have to provide information about your current health. Many states also review your criminal or disciplinary history.

Continued education requirement

To maintain your registration, you must show proof of continued education and a renewal fee at regular intervals.

Employment in dental hygiene

The vast majority of dental hygienists find employment in dental practices. There they perform their work under the supervision and in close coordination of a dentist. Many states require the supervision of a dentist.

Some seasoned practitioners find jobs in clinical research and education. Some even became salespeople for dental equipment or services.

Job outlook – Statistics

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental hygienists are in high demand. The BLS projects the number of employed dental hygienists to grow by 9 % in the decade from 2021 to 2031. In the last survey (2022) the median salary for dental hygienists was $77,810. With 19,000 new dental hygienists needed in the coming years, the job outlook is fantastic.

However, the demand for dental hygienists may vary from state to state. Also, salaries vary based on state or region. In general dental hygienists are better paid than dental assistants.

According to government statistics, over 90% of dental hygienists work in a dental office under the supervision of a dentist. That means this is a profession in health care that can avoid weekend and shift work as well as emergency shifts.

Many dental hygienists work part-time. Part-time work helps to balance work and family around the agreed-upon shifts. Some dental practices only offer part-time work. Therefore, some registered dental hygienists work at multiple dental offices to get the hours they desire.

A small fraction of dental hygienists work in clinical settings or at educational institutions. These kinds of careers tend to require advanced programs such as a master’s degree.

Benefits and compensation packages

Most dental hygienists earn a salary. Some, especially when working part-time, earn hygienists an hourly wage.

The most common benefits for dental hygienists in dental practice are:

– Paid time off

– Health Insurance

– Dental Insurance

Typically, only full-time employees receive benefits. A full-time job is usually required to work 32 or more hours per week.

An increasing number of dental hygienists might get a bonus or commission. Commissions are based on how many patients they see in a day or week. This keeps the cost low for the dentists and incentivizes the dental hygienist to “sell” their own services to patients.

Role in the Dental Team

No one likes to go to the dentist and people have less time in their busy lives to maintain their health. Therefore patients at a dental office expect speedy treatment and good service.

Teamwork is the key to success in dental care. A dentist wants to focus on the care of the patient’s teeth. A dental hygienist lightens the load on the dentist by taking and analyzing X-rays or inspecting overall oral health.

Dental cleaning, sealing, and whitening services need to be performed on a regular basis. These services prevent tooth damage and so reduce the number of dental interventions. If patients get regular cleanings, they also get screened for cavities more often. This helps to detect tooth decay early.

A dental hygienist must understand the dental history as documented by a dentist. She must further document her own findings in a professional manner. The dentist will rely on her diagnosis for his treatment plan.

A dental hygienist’s professional relationship also includes dental technicians. The quality of inlays, crowns, and dentures influences a patient’s oral health. Dental hygienists can diagnose issues with such prosthesesDental hygienists. She can suggest modifications, that improve cleanliness, to the dentist and dental technologist. Some dental hygienists also take imprints for dental laboratory work.

Key Takeaways

– A dental hygienist helps clients to maintain their oral health. She performs services, such as oral health risk assessments, dental cleaning, and sealings.

– Dental hygienists must obtain a license in the state where they want to practice. A license requires at minimum an associate’s degree and a board examination.

– Most dental hygienists work in dental practices under the supervision of a dentist.

– The job outlook for dental hygienists is strong. Demand for registered dental hygienists is growing.

– Dental hygienists earn an income above average.

– Dental hygienists need strong interpersonal communications skills, empathy, and compassion to succeed.

Is a Career in Dental Hygiene for You?

Dental hygienists are a respected profession, working together with other professionals. You will work with people, but also with technical equipment, such as X-ray machines.

Dental hygienists enjoy, unlike other healthcare professionals, regular weekday hours. No night or weekend shifts for registered dental hygienists.

Dental hygiene can be a very fulfilling career. If you love to work with people and have the required attention to detail, you achieve your dreams in this field.

As the next step, you want to check our article “How to become a dental hygienist?”

If you are looking for alternatives, check out this article.

About Ansar Ullah

My dream was always to become a medical doctor. However, I could not afford to study medicine so I became a writer.
Here I write about dentistry and careers in the wider field of dentistry. I love to research about educational topics and what it takes to be come a dental hygienist or a dental assistant. I also love to learn more about other specializations in the field of oral science.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *