If you are interested in a career in health, there are many different roles to consider. One field in which you may want to work is in dental health. This is a field with many different roles, one of which is a dental hygienist. These professionals play an important role in the prevention of dental health problems, as well as the treatment of many issues. If this is a career path you are considering, here is everything you need to know about becoming a dental hygienist, including training requirements, job information, and the potential salary of those working in this role.
What is a Dental Hygienist?
A dental hygienist is a qualified and licensed dental health professional. They can work alone or alongside other dental health professionals to promote good dental health and to prevent or treat oral diseases.
What Does the Role of a Dental Hygienist Involve?
The role of a dental hygienist is varied, and the exact roles and duties can vary from one job to the next. According to ADA, some of the typical duties you could expect to undertake in the role of a dental hygienist include:
- Promoting positive dental health to individuals and groups.
- Assessing the oral health of a patient.
- Removing calculus and plaque from the surfaces of teeth.
- Applying preventative measures.
- Teaching preventative strategies to patients.
- Reviewing oral and general health history.
- Oral, head, and neck inspection.
- Making dental impressions of teeth for study casts.
- Administrative and record-keeping tasks.
Some dental hygienists also have additional roles and duties depending on their qualifications, experience, work environment, and specialisms. These may include:
- Administering local anesthesia.
- Screening patients for oral cancer.
- Taking and developing dental radiographs.
Reasons to Consider a Career as a Dental Hygienist
There are many benefits to choosing to pursue a career as a dental hygienist. Some of the reasons you may wish to consider this career include:
- Personal satisfaction- The role of a dental hygienist is a rewarding one, and those working in this role take personal satisfaction from helping people.
- Patient contact- It is a great job for those who want to work with people as dental hygienists work with a diverse sample of the population.
- Interesting and varied- No two days are the same for a dental hygienist as they will do different tasks to meet the needs of a patient.
- Flexibility- There are options for full or part-time positions for dental hygienists.
- Work options- You can work in a range of environments and take on extra responsibilities, so there are options available after qualification.
- Financially rewarding-Although a dental hygienist does not earn as much as a dentist, they earn significantly more than a dental assistant. This means that it is a financially rewarding role.
- Professional respect-The dental hygienist is a role that is respected by other health professionals as it is increasingly recognized that they play a significant role in oral and general healthcare.
- Job opportunities- Dental hygienists are increasingly in demand. There are more opportunities for dental hygienists than ever before because of the aging population and research into links between oral and general health.
- Challenging- A dental hygienist will face various challenges each day. While this sometimes makes it a difficult job, it also makes it exciting and rewarding. Taking on these challenges can help you to learn and become a better dental hygienist.
What Qualifications Are Needed to Become a Dental Hygienist?
Before embarking on a career as a dental hygienist, it is important that you know the training requirements and the qualifications you will need to achieve. According to Learn How to Become, the main qualification needed to become a dental hygienist is an associate degree in dental hygiene that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. There are further options once you have received this degree to further your skills and knowledge. These are often shorter courses, and the least popular option is to complete a Master’s degree in dental hygiene.
What Experience Do You Need to Become a Dental Hygienist?
According to Study.com, you do not need any experience to begin training and qualifying as a dental hygienist. However, gaining experience is an essential part of the qualifying process. You will not become qualified and work with patients until you have gained the necessary experience and completed the necessary practical assessments.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Dental Hygienist?
Before embarking on a career as a dental hygienist, you should consider whether you have the right skills and attributes for the role. This will involve making a critical self-evaluation. Some of the skills you need to become a dental hygienist are communication, critical thinking, decision-making, attention to detail, compassion, and dexterity.
How to Become a Dental Hygienist
There are only two steps to becoming a dental hygienist. College Grad says that these are:
- Get an associate degree- the first step to becoming a dental hygienist is to complete an associate degree in dental hygiene. These can last between two and three years and involve a combination of theoretical and practical topics. Throughout the degree, you will need to successfully complete a variety of assessments and examinations to qualify.
- Get licensed- The second stage in becoming a dental hygienist is to get licensed. To practice as a dental hygienist, you will need to have a license that covers all the states in the United States. The licensing requirements for each state vary. While for some you just need evidence of the successful completion of your degree, others require you to achieve additional certification before a license is granted. It is important that you check these requirements before embarking on this career.
Once you have completed these two stages, you are a qualified and licensed dental hygienist. This means that you can practice as a dental hygienist in any state in the United States. At this stage, you may also consider continuing your education to advance your skills. Give you more knowledge, and open up more career opportunities in the future.
What Are the Entry Requirements to Study for a Degree in Dental Health?
You can study for a degree in dental hygiene at a range of educational institutions, including colleges, technical schools, and universities. The entry requirements at each of these will vary from one establishment to another. Therefore, it is vital that you check out the requirements when choosing which courses to take prior to application so that you can plan your education and career. In most cases, the courses you have taken and the qualifications you have achieved as part of your high school education are important. Usually, to get a place on an associate degree in dental health course, you will need good grades in math, biology, and chemistry.
What Does an Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene Involve?
The course programs to achieve an associate degree in dental health can vary from one educational establishment to the next, so it is important that you compare the different options when making your choice. They can also vary in length, with some lasting for two years and others for three years. Some of the typical topics covered while studying to achieve an associate degree in dental health include nutrition, physiology, periodontics, pathology, patient management, radiography, and medical ethics. Education is delivered in a variety of means, including in a classroom setting and in clinical environments. This is because the courses combine both academic and practical aspects of learning. Students may also spend some time in laboratories.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Dental Hygienist?
The length of time it takes to become a dental hygienist can depend on several factors, such as where you study, which course you take, and if you have a specialism. Although there are some degrees available that you can complete in two years, the usual length of an associate degree in three years. Following meeting licensing requirements, you can then practice as a dental hygienist.
Are There Exams Involved?
Throughout the course, you will undergo a continuous assessment of your skills and may take tests at the end of each topic of study to reinforce learning. At the end of the degree, you will take a comprehensive written test, which is the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. You must successfully complete this to become qualified. You will also undergo a state-level or regional clinical board examination.
Are All Associate Degrees the Same?
Although all associate degrees in dental health achieve the same level of qualification, there are several different degrees within this category from which you can choose. Some of these include:
- Dental radiography
- Dental hygiene clinical
- Dental anatomy
- Oral pathology
- Prevention of oral disease
The Bachelor’s Degree Qualification Route
A Bachelor’s degree differs from an associate degree because it is more comprehensive and takes four years to complete. Although many of the same topics are included, they are covered in a more comprehensive way, and students also receive a broader education. It is worthwhile taking the time to complete the extra year because it will make you stand out in a competitive industry.
Where Can You Study to Become a Dental Hygienist and Can You Qualify Online?
More people than ever are taking online courses as a way of achieving a qualification. The reasons they do this is because it means they do not have to move away for a course, they can study around family commitments, and they can learn as they earn. So, is this an option if you want to become a dental hygienist?
In short, the answer to this is no. This is because there are practical elements to completing a dental hygiene degree that you will need to learn under supervision. However, Learn How to Become notes that online courses can play a role in the continuing professional development of a dental hygienist. Online courses are a way of experienced professionals learning about advances in their profession or gaining accreditation to work in different environments.
So, where can someone study to qualify to become a qualified dental hygienist? You can study at any educational establishment that offers a degree in dental hygiene that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Hygiene.
Are There Different Types of Dental Hygienists?
There are not different types of dental hygienists, but a dental hygienist may take courses as part of their continuous professional development to specialize in certain aspects of dental hygiene. For example, they may specialize in the area of oral cancer or the treatment of children. Having additional qualifications and specialisms can broaden your future career opportunities.
What is the Salary of a Dental Hygienist?
The salary of a dental hygienist can vary depending on several factors. These include qualifications, experience, working environment, specialisms, and location. According to Career Explorer, the average starting wage of a dental hygienist is $52,560. The average salary in the United States is $61,174. A dental hygienist’s earning potential increases as they gain more experience. The top dental hygienist salary is $92,290. Career Explorer breaks this down further into potential earnings by seniority
- Starting level dental hygienist- $52,560
- Junior-level dental hygienist- $55,065
- Mid-level dental hygienist- $61,174
- Senior-level dental hygienist- $73,249
- Top-level dental hygienist- $92,290
The same website also compares the earning potential of a dental hygienist by state. Alabama offers the lowest earning potential for dental hygienists with average salaries of $45,380, closely followed by West Virginia at $54,760. The five top-earning states for dental hygienists are as follows:
- Alaska- $106,530
- New Mexico- $85,060
- Washington- $92,230
- Nevada- $89,680
Is it Worth Becoming a Dental Hygienist in Terms of the Salary?
Although it takes time to complete the degree and become licensed, it is worth putting in the effort to achieve a good salary. Dental hygienists earn significantly more than dental assistants, so it is a financially rewarding career.
How Are Dental Hygienists Paid?
There are different ways that a dental hygienist is paid, and this depends on their contract and terms of employment. Some of the possibilities include:
- Base hourly plus commission- The dental hygienist is guaranteed a minimum salary but can earn bonuses based on efficient production.
- Straight commission- Dental hygienists are sometimes paid based on the number of patients they see and the treatments they deliver. This is sometimes risky in a new practice or one that is not busy. However, it can also reap more financial rewards than earning an hourly salary. Statistics show that hygienists paid this way can ear up to 33 percent more than those on an hourly salary.
- Hourly salary- The dental hygienist is paid a set hourly rate regardless of how many patients they see or the type of treatments they deliver.
- Hourly plus bonuses- The dental hygienist is paid an hourly rate but can also receive performance-based incentives of between 10 and 20 percent of the services they have billed.
What is the Working Environment of a Dental Hygienist?
Dental hygienists can work in a range of working environments, depending on their role. Usually, they will work in either a dental office or a hospital setting. This can involve them working as a practitioner alone, or in a setting with several other dental professionals, such as dentists, orthodontists, and dental health assistants.
As part of their role, dental hygienists may also spend some of their time working in an office. Furthermore, they may need to visit other departments to complete their duties or collaborate with colleagues. For example, they may need to go to laboratories, radiography, and any other relevant area of a hospital, medical center, or dental office. In rare circumstances, a dental hygienist may do home visits to deliver dental hygiene care to those who are housebound or incapacitated.
What is the Work Schedule of a Dental Hygienist?
The work schedule of a dental hygienist can vary from one role to the next, depending on their duties. However, this is a varied role so most dental hygienists’ daily routines will depend on the needs of their patients. There are both full and part-time roles available, so it is possible to have this career and combine it with family life and other commitments. A dental hygienist only works in the day, so this is not a career that involves working nights or on shift patterns.
What is the Job Outlook for Qualified Dental Hygienists?
The job outlook for a qualified dental hygienist is good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is projected that employment in this role will grow by up to 20 percent between 2016 and 2026. This is a much faster rate of growth than the average for all occupations. This reflects the increased demand for dental hygienists, which is partly thanks to an aging population. The growth also reflects the increase in research that links oral health to overall health. This is also a sign of the respect that dental hygienists now receive and the fact that it is acknowledged that they make a vital contribution to healthcare.
Where Can a Qualified Dental Hygienist Practice?
The qualification process requires that dental hygienists get licenses to practice throughout the United States. This means that once they are qualified, a dental hygienist can practice in any state of the United States. However, what about if they move outside of the United States for personal reasons or to seek international job opportunities? It is possible to work in many countries internationally after qualifying as a dental hygienist in the United States. In some countries, it is possible to directly transfer the qualification with no need for additional certification. On the other hand, there are countries where you will need to apply for a separate license to practice or even take additional qualifications.
Before making a life-changing decision and moving abroad in the hope of finding work, it is essential that you check out the requirements of the country to which you are moving. The International Federation of Dental Hygienists offers this useful page with links to each of the countries here. Using this resource can help you to get a better understanding of the exact requirements of each of the countries listed.
Further Career Opportunities
Becoming qualified and working as a dental hygienist can lead to other career opportunities in the future. According to ADA, some of the potential career opportunities include:
- Teaching dental hygiene skills to dental hygiene students
- Delivering oral hygiene sessions in schools, colleges, and other environments
- Dental hygiene research
- Marketing for companies that produce dental health supplies
- Dental hygiene administration
A Career as a Dental Hygienist- The Final Verdict
A career in dental hygiene is challenging and rewarding in equal measures. Qualifying in this role opens up a range of job opportunities in various working environments and with both full and part-time jobs on offer. If you have good grades in math, biology, and chemistry, you can easily access an associate or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene to pursue a career as a dental hygienist. Once qualified, there are options to specialize and progress in your career.
Becoming a dental hygienist is also financially rewarding, and your salary will increase as you gain experience. How much you can earn will depend on your role, the location, your experience, and the payment terms. The role of a dental hygienist is varied, and this will keep your career interesting. Your exact duties will depend on your working environment and any areas of specialism. There is also the opportunity to progress onto another career in related industries once you have achieved your qualifications and gained some experience in the role.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn