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How to Become a Dental Hygienist

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What is a Dental Hygienist? Brief Overview:

Dental hygienists are the professionals who clean your teeth when you go for your routine dentist visit. Dental hygienists assist dentists and also work with dental assistants. A dental assistant is not the same profession as a dental hygienist. Becoming a dental hygienist requires more training and school than it does to become a dental assistant. Therefore, dental hygienists can perform additional duties that dental assistants cannot.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists also help teach patients about proper oral hygiene and preventative care, as well as examining teeth and recording any abnormalities or areas of concern for the dentist to examine further and treat if necessary.

Degree Programs for Dental Hygienists:

Becoming a hygienist requires completion of an accredited dental hygiene program as well as a state license.

According to the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA), there are education programs offering associate's (86 credit hours) and bachelor's degrees (122 credit hours). Degree programs should be accredited by CODA (Commission on Dental Accreditation). Both types of programs prepare students for certification and a career as a dental hygienist.

For those professionals interested in teaching in dental hygiene programs, or for research or administrative roles, a master's degree is available in dental hygiene.

The average cost of an associate's degree is about $30,000, and about $45,000 for a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene, according to the ADHA.

Requirements for Admission into a Dental Hygienist Degree Program:

According to the ADHA, entrance requirements vary depending on the school. However, most programs require the following for admission into an accredited dental hygienist degree program:
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Minimum high school grade average of C level, must include courses in math, biology, chemistry, and English
  • 40 college hours of pre-requisite courses, typically including chemistry, psychology, English, speech
Additionally, most schools also factor in your college entrance exam scores, as well as your performance in a personal interview, written essay, or dexterity test. (Since dental hygienists work with their hands all day, in a small space, they must have the physical capacity to perform precise movements with both hands.)

Work Environment and Schedule for Dental Hygienists:

Most dental hygienists work in clean, well-lit dental offices.

The schedules can vary, but can range from part-time to full-time based on the needs of the employer and employee. The flexibility of scheduling is one of many draws for careers in dental hygiene. Additionally, hours are limited to standard dentist office hours, so dental hygienists do not have to work nights or weekends, like many other healthcare professionals often must.

Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists:

The job outlook is very strong for dental hygienists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is projected to grow by 36 percent through through 2018, which is "much faster than average".

This percentage represents the addition of about 62,900 jobs from 2008-2018 for dental hygienists!

Salary for Dental Hygienists:

How much do dental hygienists earn? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income is $66,570, based on 2008 salary data, the most recent available as of late 2011. The middle 50 percent of dental hygienists earned from $55,000 to $78,000, and the top 10 percent earned upwards of $91,000 annually.

Benefits vary by employer, and usually are limited to dental hygienists who work full-time.

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