It is natural to seek a career in a field with a bright future, stable and impressive income, along with the potential for growth and a fulfilling lifestyle. Becoming a dental hygienist is one of the ways to achieve this goal.
Dental hygienists help people live a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle while maintaining optimal oral hygiene and preventing the onset of serious diseases linked to poor dental health.
At the moment, becoming a dental hygienist is one of the most attractive career paths in the country, with a job outlook more favorable than the national average. But what exactly does a dental hygienist do? And, more importantly, how do you go about becoming one? We answer these questions and many more below.
What a Dental Hygienist Does
Simply put, dental hygienists are concerned with the oral healthcare of their patients. They have the skill, knowledge, and expertise to help people maintain perfect oral health. They are also skilled in preventative care that eliminates the need for future disease treatment by ensuring the patient’s teeth are in good shape from the get-go.
Specifically, dental hygienists can be found using tools like scrapers and polishers to remove plaques, applying fluoride and sealants, developing X-rays, and assisting dentists during essential procedures.
Becoming a Dental Hygienist
Luckily, we live in a time where there are more than enough options for those looking to become dental hygienists. With various offline and online programs, a prospective dental hygienist should be fine getting started.
Below is a step-by-step guide that should prove helpful to anyone wishing to embark on this journey.
Step 1: Choose a Dental Hygiene Program
First, before choosing a program, it is essential to find one accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). There are generally three types of CODA-accredited programs: entry-level, degree, and graduate.
Entry-level programs are for students without experience in the field, while degree programs are usually for licensed dental hygienists looking to advance their careers.
Graduate programs are for professionals who wish to get a master’s degree to carry out research or take on advanced roles.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Program
Apart from program type, there are other factors to consider when choosing a dental hygiene program, including:
- Location - The options available in this regard are community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutions, universities, and online programs.
- Length - The length of a program will depend on the type of institution and the degree in sight. Some vocational programs, for example, may last for less than two years, while a bachelor’s degree program lasts four years.
- Accreditation - As mentioned earlier, enrolling in a CODA-accredited program is advisable. Sadly, most online programs aren’t accredited by CODA, thanks to the requirement for physical lab work.
Step 2: Ensure that You Meet the Admission Requirements
Not all programs have the exact requirements. To meet the admission requirements for most dental hygiene programs, however, candidates may have to fulfill the following prerequisites:
- High School Courses - Some programs require candidates to have taken some courses in high school, such as mathematics, psychology, and chemistry.
- GPA - Some programs have a minimum GPA requirement.
It is also imperative that an aspiring dental hygienist possess additional skills, such as a high level of mastery, problem-solving, communication, interpersonal, and attention to detail.
It is also advisable to draft a solid personal statement to convince institutions of your goal and separate yourself from the pack. For programs that conduct interviews before admission, candidates must also maintain absolute professionalism throughout the interview.
Step 3: Take the Licensure Exam
Anyone who wishes to become a dental hygienist must pass two different examinations - the National Board Dental Examination (also divided into two parts) and the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.
Registering for the exam requires a DENTPIN (Dental Personal Identification Number) from the American Dental Association. You must also have graduated from a CODA-accredited program.
The National Board Dental Examination (NBDE)
The first part of the exam contains 400 questions on a range of topics from biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, and pathology to dental anatomy, occlusion, ethical principles, patient management, and others.
The second part of the examination contains 500 questions covering oral diagnosis, dental charting, treatment application, and diagnostic radiographs.
Test results are released on the ADA websites.
The National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE)
The NBDHE exams contain 350 multiple-choice questions divided into discipline-based and case-based components. The exam tests students on dental hygiene practices, community health and research principles, dental hygiene patient cases, and clinical dental hygiene services.
The results are also released on the ADA website.
Step 4: Find a Job
The job outlook for the dental hygiene field is very positive, as shown by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Along with actual in-depth knowledge of the field, finding a job as a dental hygienist will be easier for those who possess additional essential skills such as talent, attention to detail, interpersonal skills, and communication skills.
An advanced degree also makes job application much more accessible and often qualifies you for a bigger salary.
Dental hygienists can work part-time or full-time, depending on the exact office they decide to work in.
Lastly, even after passing the appropriate examinations and getting their licenses, dental hygienists are often required to complete a specific number of continuing education credits every year or two, depending on the state where they practice.
Some states specify that a specific amount of these continuing education hours must be clinical.
Continuing education aims to help dental hygienists keep up with continuing development, both in skills and technologies required to maintain excellence in the field. It is essential to see it not just as another step towards keeping your license but as a crucial step to remaining on top of your area for as long as you choose to practice.