Dental hygienists work with patients from all walks of life to improve their oral health. For many, a career as a dental hygienist offers a veritable path to a fulfilling career, helping people and acquiring knowledge while having a straightforward approach to achieving growth in the healthcare field.
To be able to carry out their job to the highest level, dental hygienists must spend time acquiring quality education and training. But how exactly does one go by this? And what are the options available in this regard? We take an in-depth look below.
Dental Hygienist Education
To become a dental hygienist, one must typically enroll in a dental hygiene program. Thankfully, there are quite a few options to choose from in this regard to ensure that the journey is as smooth and comfortable as possible.
Dental hygiene programs are offered in different education forms, including community colleges, vocational schools, and specialized institutions.
- Vocational School - It is possible to become a dental hygienist by studying in a vocational school. The amount of time it takes to complete a dental hygienist program in a vocational School is usually three years.
Some, however, provide accelerated training options which allow students to graduate in as little as 17 months.
- Dental School - Dental schools offer candidates a range of degrees, from certificates to master’s degrees. The specialization on oral health by these types of institutions helps students gain an in-depth picture of the profession.
Through hands-on clinical rotations, volunteer opportunities, and classroom teaching, students obtain practically all the knowledge they’ll need to become successful dental hygienists.
- Community College - Community colleges offer dental hygienist programs with a focus on patient care, comprehensive oral health, and community health. They teach students everything they’ll need to take and pass the licensure exams upon graduation.
- Colleges & Universities - Besides offering associate degrees, colleges and universities also offer bachelor’s degree programs in dental hygiene. These bachelor’s degree programs last four years, enough time to teach students everything they need to acquire a more profound knowledge of the field.
Those who wish to go even deeper can also opt for a master’s degree.
Aspiring dental hygienists also have a few options regarding which type of degree they go for. Typically, the major factor behind choosing the right degree is a function of your desired area of practice.
For instance, those who seek to work in a dental office will have no use for a master’s degree, while those who wish to do academic research will need more than an associate’s degree.
Below are the available options in this regard.
An associate degree is appropriate for those who wish to work with patients on a day-to-day basis. They enjoy working with patients and teaching them how to improve their oral health.
Associate programs are also more affordable than the rest and offer enough foundational knowledge to ensure success in practice.
A bachelor’s degree is appropriate for those who wish to work with patients on a day-to-day basis but also do so while working in a specialized field such as in a public health program.
Bachelor’s degree programs provide a well-rounded foundation and tend to cover topics that go beyond the realm of dental hygiene alone.
A master’s degree is perfect for those who have already garnered experience working as a dental hygienist in a dental office. Having experienced the joy of working with patients every day and helping them learn more about dental hygiene, they now wish to move on to a more research and development-oriented approach to the field.
The National Board Dental Hygiene Exam
To become a registered dental hygienist, you must complete two exams, the National Board Dental Examination and the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.
The NBDE consists of two different parts, the first of which comprises 400 items, while the second consists of 500 items. The NBDHE includes 350 multiple-choice questions.
To qualify, candidates must first obtain a Dental Personal Identification Number, also known as the DENTPIN. This is the number with which candidates register and check their results on the ADA website once they’re done.
Possible Specializations for a Dental Hygienist
As mentioned earlier, it is possible for dental hygienists who opt for advanced education to choose an area of specialization. Below are some of the options available in this regard.
Dental Hygiene Educator
Those who concentrate on being dental hygiene educators will gain knowledge of both oral health and the relevant theories and concepts related to the field.
They will learn how to teach these concepts to adults in a classroom.
Common topics to be encountered during your education to become a dental hygiene educator include periodontal health and preventative oral hygiene.
Those who specialize in this field can choose to teach at vocational schools, community colleges, universities, and dental schools. They earn a median salary of $52,172.
Public Health Administrator
Those who concentrate on being public health administrators will learn how to design and develop public health initiatives to improve oral health for the community as a whole.
Classroom topics to be encountered include specific courses in preventative dentistry, oral health and nutrition, human resource management, public policy development, and community dental health.
The median salary for public health administrators is $52,172.
Pediatric Dental Hygienist
A pediatric dental hygienist works with young children. Topics to be encountered include those related to the development of baby and permanent teeth.
Pediatric dental hygienists also learn how to educate children on proper dental hygiene, how to handle thumb sucking and the use of fluoride.
The median salary for pediatric dental hygienists is $70,354.
Periodontal Dental Hygienist
A periodontal dental hygienist focuses on teeth health. They learn about all the factors responsible for healthy teeth. They also learn about diseases affecting the teeth and how to prevent them.
Topics to be encountered include charting, tongue hygiene, denture care, nutrition, and oral cancer screenings.
The median salary for periodontal dental hygienists is $65,367.