Table of Contents
- What Is A Dental Hygienist?
- What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?
- Dental Hygienist Education
- How Long Does It Take To Become A Dental Hygienist?
- Dental Hygienist Requirements
You’re here because you want to know more about how to become a dental hygienist. Dental health care is a very important field. Although some don’t consider oral health as important, that is until they start feeling an ache in their teeth.
Oral diseases are a major public health concern according to the World Health Organization. This is because of how commonly they occur all over the world, and can also result in quite serious and often painful consequences. Compared to other members of society, oral diseases are particularly prevalent among disadvantaged people because of a lack of access to adequate dental care.
For these reasons, there may be those among you that want to pursue a career in the field. For those looking to get into the dental healthcare field, most likely the first thing that comes to mind is becoming a dentist or dental surgeon.
However, there are a variety of other professionals in the oral healthcare field. These include a variety of dental auxiliary personnel such as dental assistants, to dental technicians, and the focus of this article, dental hygienists.
Let’s discuss how to become a dental hygienist, dental hygienist education, and dental hygienist jobs. Hopefully, the information we have here will help you to make better decisions if you are looking to pursue a career in dental healthcare, or just give you a good read to extinguish your curiosity. This will be a general overview discussing as much as we can so feel free to skip over to the parts that you want to read first.
What Is A Dental Hygienist?
So before asking “how to become a dental hygienist”, first let’s talk about what exactly that is. A dental hygienist is a licensed dental health professional, also known as an “oral hygienist”.
These professionals can work independently from dentists, or alongside other dental professionals to provide patients with a full range of oral health care. Their training is primarily focused on the prevention and treatment of most oral diseases that people suffer from.
The profession falls under the general practice of dentistry or dental medicine but has specific roles and duties that are different and more specialized than dentists and other dental professionals.
You must know what a dental hygienist does before searching for answers on how to become a dental hygienist.
What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?
So before we can discuss how to become a dental hygienist, what does a dental hygienist do exactly?
Well, a dental hygienist is a preventative dental health professional. If a dentist specializes in the treatment, a dental hygienist will specialize in preventive and educational services, to help patients maintain good dental health, or assist in post-operative recovery. To give you an idea of what this all means, let’s look at the question “what does a dental hygienist do?” in detail.
Different Roles In Dental Hygienist Jobs
There are a variety of different duties that a dental hygienist usually finds themselves doing. They find themselves in a variety of different roles that are in demand in general dental practices, as well as in more specialized practices, such as in periodontics and pediatric dentistry.
Some of the dental hygienist jobs that you can commonly expect are:
Patient Screening Procedures
This includes procedures such as assessment of the patient’s oral health conditions, reviewing their dental health history, dental charting, and various other assessments and pre-operative screenings.
Application Of Preventive Materials To teeth
This refers to the application of specialized preventive dental materials, such as Fluorides and sealants. These are used to prevent oral diseases in the future by reinforcing the enamel in the teeth and sealing any lesions.
Performing Dental X-Rays
Dental hygienists usually perform these support roles for dentists in clinical practice. The process of performing and developing a patient’s dental x-rays is one of the many hygienist jobs.
Like previously mentioned, Dental hygienists typically work in a preventative role. Thus counseling and education of patients on proper dental hygiene is a big part of the Dental hygienist jobs.
This can also include nutritional counseling and post-operative recommendations to assist in healing and prevent future conditions.
Periodontal therapy is a broad term used to describe a variety of different procedures and treatments against gum diseases. The gums play a huge role in overall oral health and so need to be given appropriate attention by oral health professionals.
As such Dental hygienists perform tasks such as periodontal charting, periodontal debridement, prophylaxis, and periodontal maintenance for any patients that are already suffering from some sort of gum disease.
Making Impressions For Casts
Sometimes dental hygienists may also find themselves making study casts of patient’s teeth to be used for assessment and evaluation by them or other oral healthcare professionals. This allows them to determine the appropriate treatments to be taken and evaluate the current state of the patient’s teeth.
Other Dental Hygienist Roles And Responsibility
Most Dental Hygienists find themselves working in either private or government dental clinics. Aside from the normal dental hygienist practice in dental clinics, licensed dental hygienists can also find themselves in other places where their professional expertise is needed and useful.
There are many career opportunities for them in education, research and development, marketing, public health administration, and more. There is a good amount of professional variety available to licensed dental hygienists in many different professional settings.
Some may think that dental hygienists have a lot of overlap with other dental support professionals such as dental assistants. But there is quite a big difference, and they are not interchangeable positions.
Dental assistants are more focused on helping dental clinics and offices run smoothly through maintenance duties and administrative duties. Dental hygienists have supporting duties to dentists, but are more focused on technical work and providing preventative treatment and counseling to patients.
As important for some as the question of how to become a dental hygienist, is what are my career opportunities as a dental hygienist.
Well, in the United States, an aging population and increasing consciousness to oral healthcare mean that there will be no shortage of opportunities to practice within the profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be an increase in jobs for dental hygienists by 6% from 2019-2029. That is about 13,300 new jobs. Rural communities that are generally underserved in terms of oral healthcare offer some of the most opportunities for dental hygienists.
These are just some of the jobs that a dental hygienist can expect from their professional practice. But before you start thinking about any of that we need to discuss how to become a dental hygienist in the realm of dental hygienist education.
Dental Hygienist Education
Let’s discuss how to become a dental hygienist, and what sort of educational path you can expect for this career.
When pursuing a dental hygienist education it is important to look for a college that has a program accredited and officially recognized by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in the US.
There are three types of programs provided for dental hygiene and these are:
Wondering how to become a dental hygienist? Start at the entry-level. This kind of program includes both associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees. These are for individuals that have no previous dental education. This is the minimum requirement for educational attainment to start practicing in the dental hygiene field.
These kinds of programs are meant for already licensed dental hygienists who are looking for education beyond their entry-level education. This is usually in a more specialized branch of dental hygiene and is good for focusing down on certain skill sets.
A graduate degree in dental hygiene is a master’s degree. This can be taken after completing a bachelor’s program in dental hygiene, or other related oral hygiene fields. This opens up more opportunities for graduates in the field of medical research and education.
Associate Degree In Dental Hygiene
To answer how to become a dental hygienist, we’ll be taking a brief look at what the most common path into the profession is. That is what kind of curriculum you can generally expect when taking an associate’s degree in dental hygiene.
The kinds of courses you are likely to encounter will have both theory and practical lab work included, as to train students both in the book knowledge and the practical application in the field.
Courses in a dental hygiene course can include subjects such as dental anatomy, oral pathology, patient management, radiography, communications, dental materials, and periodontics, to name a few. Accredited schools will have you go through both lab work, and on-site clinical training, to get you acclimatized to the kind of work environment you will experience in professional practice.
How does this compare to a bachelor’s in dental hygiene though? Well if you have no prior academic units it will take 4 years to finish a bachelor’s program in dental hygiene. If you finished an associate’s degree, however, you may carry over some of your transferable college crests to take some of the years out of your bachelor’s program. If you have 60 or more transferable units you could end up cutting the program time in half, taking only an additional two years.
Of course, while you are doing this you will have a range of the other common subjects that are expected of a student in college such as English, Sciences, and Mathematics, amounting to about 30 general education credits.
The common perception of medical education is that it takes a long time, with long periods of training and practical experience needed to even receive your degree.
Now that you know how to become a dental hygienist, another question that arises among young individuals is how long does it take to become a dental hygienist.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Dental Hygienist?
So now you have a better idea of how to become a dental hygienist, how long does it take to become a dental hygienist? Well, that can depend. The most common degree for dental hygiene is an associate’s degree which takes 2 years.
However, if coming from an Associate degree program usually complete a certain amount of mandatory prerequisite coursework before beginning the actual dental hygiene program.
If coming from a Bachelors’s program in dental hygiene, however, it will take 4 years of education to finish. If one wishes, they may also choose to pursue a master’s degree in dental hygiene as well to further develop their skills and broaden their opportunities in related healthcare fields, specialized practices, and dental education.
So to answer the question of how long does it take to become a dental hygienist, It can take 2 to 6 years of education to become a dental hygienist. Now that you know more about how to become a dental hygienist and the time duration it requires, let’s look at some important requirements.
Dental Hygienist Requirements
Dental hygienists require a variety of different technical and interpersonal skills to work with their patients and provide oral care as part of the dental hygienist requirements. After they receive their degree in dental hygiene, they must then become accredited by their national regulatory board on dental health care. In the United States, this takes the form of the ADA or American Dental Association.
Different states have their specific regulations on the practice of dental hygienists so dental hygienist requirements may vary depending on where you intend to practice. In general, however dental hygienists in the United States must be licensed in the state where they practice and must complete a minimum of two years of dental education.
Additionally, they must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and a clinical board exam administered by the state they practice in. Only after these requirements are met and licenses acquired, can an individual dental hygienist use the acronym R.D.H. after their names to show that they are indeed a registered dental hygienist. These are all important things to know when considering how to become a dental hygienist.
To conclude, dental hygienists have a variety of different career opportunities, as well as a wide skill set needed to perform their duties. They are an indispensable part of the oral healthcare profession, providing counseling and preventative treatment to patients.
We hope this article was able to give you a general overview of how to become a dental hygienist, and can now make good decisions for your education and career in the future.