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How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Majors Overview January 23, 2013

Licensed dentists rely on assistance from other oral health professionals known as dental hygienists. Proper oral hygiene is taught to patients by these professionals who also conduct teeth cleanings, oral inspections and patient assessments. Hygienists are commonly employed in general and specialty dental clinics, but they may be employed at other healthcare facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals. In this article, we will look at the education and training requirements of dental hygienists.

Career Requirements for a Dental Hygienist

Typically, dental hygienists are expected to maintain an associate degree; they also need to meet state licensure norms. A few hold bachelor degrees while there are others who have completed master degree programs. The degree area of concentration is dental hygiene. Licensure is mandatory in every state. These professionals need to have critical thinking, decision-making and interpersonal skills apart from manual dexterity. They also need to have computer skills particularly with respect to different software programs such as Henry Schein Dentrix software, dental office management software, dental-charting software, and Dental-billing software. Additionally, they need technical skills in the form of experience with probes, lasers, dental scalers, teeth cleaning devices and dental x-ray machines. Since they spend most of their time on their feet, dental hygienists need to have physical stamina (sources: O Net OnLine, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The following is a step-by-step guide that can be followed by anyone planning a career in this field.

Stage One: Earning a Bachelor Degree

Dental hygienists generally possess an associate degree such as an Associate of Applied Science in dental hygiene. Dental schools, vocational schools and community colleges offer two-year degree programs. Students take a combination of classroom lectures and hands on experience in clinical settings. Coursework includes subject areas such as pharmacology, community dental health, periodontics, infection control, pain management, oral pathology, radiology and dental materials. Dental hygienists need to have exceptional interpersonal skills because they have to interact continually with patients on a daily basis and have to explain dental processes to them. Compassion is another desirable quality especially when dealing with patients who fear dental procedures or who could be in pain. These professionals can hone these skills by working with students and instructors. Use of good body mechanics is also required to offset the risk of injuries that dental hygienists bear through having to adopt awkward physical postures during their work. Aspiring dental hygienists must ensure that they receive training in school on preventative techniques for avoidance of risks, so they can remain healthy. If there are no body mechanics course offered at the school, students can look for online options.

Stage Two: Passing the Licensing Examination

Licensure is mandatory in all states. While the requirement norms could differ from state to state, almost every state requires candidates to have completed accredited postsecondary dental hygiene courses. Letters of recommendation, school transcripts and CPR certification are some of the requirements. Once they qualify for licensure, prospective dental hygienists can take the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam, a written examination that the American Dental Association administers. Thereafter, students have to take a state or regional clinical board examination.

Stage Three: Continuing Education

Most dental hygienist positions require no more than an associate degree, some hygienists complete higher degree programs in order to improve their career potential. With a Bachelor or Master degree in dental hygiene, a dental hygienist can also pursue career paths such as research and teaching. Those who seek jobs in school clinics and public health settings may need to possess an advanced degree.

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