Duties and Essential Information about Becoming a Dental Hygienist written by: Topcontentcreator Dental hygienists (also called oral health practitioners) are oral health professionals who are responsible for assisting dentists in the provision of preventative dental care services and oral health care assessments. In fulfilling their role, they work closely with dental assistants and dentists to provide clinical, educational, research, administrative and therapeutic services supporting patient overall health and well-being through the promotion of optimum oral health. Flexible work hours are a key feature of this profession, with some hygienists working full-time, others part-time or for multiple dentists; thus making jobs in this field potentially abundant, lucrative and fulfilling.
Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist
– Flexible work hours
– Flexibility in terms of work locations
– Employment in this field is expected to grow much faster than average
– This field has a variety of career paths and opportunities
– The job pays quite well
– Offers opportunity to help people improve their oral health, making it fulfilling
– Requires only 2 years of postsecondary education
– Heavy workload
– The work itself can be quite boring due to the repetitive tasks involved
– Dental hygienists have to deal with bad teeth and bad breathe every day, which can make the tasks unpleasant and difficult
Dental Hygienist Job Description
Dental hygienists provide clinical services in a wide variety of settings, including: hospitals, private dental practices, community health settings, nursing homes, schools, faculty practice clinics, prisons, Indian reservations, and state and federal government facilities. In addition to dental clinical practice, hygienists can take advantage of career opportunities found in education and research, sales and marketing, government, public health, and administration. Many dental hygienists often combine positions in different health care settings and career paths for professional variety. For example, a dental hygienist may work in education and still work for a private dental practice. But dental hygienists mainly work in general and specialty dental clinics and hospitals. In clinical these clinical settings, the hygienists job duties center around cleaning patients’ teeth and giving instruction in proper dental hygiene. They are primarily responsible for performing tasks such as cleaning a patient’s teeth, performing dental exams, taking and developing X-rays and providing local anesthesia. Oral health practitioners also educate patients about proper dental hygiene and instruct them how to properly perform essential oral health techniques, such as flossing and brushing.
Dental Hygienist Duties
– Cleaning teeth
– Recording the medical history of patients
– Examining the patient’s teeth, mouth, gums and jaw
– Performing X-rays
– Testing saliva for early signs of tooth decay
– Recognizing and taking measures to stop periodontal disease
– Providing stents (small plastic trays) for home bleaching and making mouthguards for sport
– Whitening teeth
– Maintaining orthodontic appliances for patients
– Teaching and/or carrying out research
– Referring patients to dentists or specialists
– Educating patients on how to enhance and maintain their oral health
How to Become a Dental Hygienist
The first requirement in becoming an oral health practitioner is to obtain the proper education. So to become a registered dental hygienist, aspiring oral health practitioners must graduate from an accredited training program based in an approved institution of higher learning. There are several dental hygiene programs that can lead to licensure as a dental hygienist. But the majority of accredited programs minimally offer an associate degree in science or an associate degree in applied science. There are minimum admission requirements that applicants must meet in order to gain admission into these programs, which typically include completing mandatory prerequisite coursework. After completing a dental hygiene program, students must take and pass a clinical and written examination in order to earn licensure and be able to work in this field.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Dental Hygienist?
Dental hygiene programs generally take two or more years to complete. Associate’s degree programs usually take 2 years to complete, while bachelor’s degree programs last 4 years. Some accelerated bachelor’s degree programs with direct entry typically require three years.
Oral health practitioners typically complete a 2-year program that awards an associate degree or certification. Associate’s degree programs are available at community colleges, vocational institutes and dental schools, and require students to take general education classes that include basic sciences prior to admission. General education courses specific to this field include: psychology, sociology, microbiology, mathematics, English, chemistry, anatomy and physiology. Aspiring oral health practitioners may choose to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene, which is a 4-year program, to expand their clinical expertise and help advance their careers. As with an associate degree, the bachelor’s degree program requires applicants to take specific college-level courses before being granted admission. But dental hygiene degree programs are more competitive and students interested in earning bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene should perform well in their high school studies. They should also have a competitive ACT score and GPA in prerequisite college courses. With a bachelor’s degree, an individual may qualify to become an oral health educator or take up various health care management positions. Graduate programs (specifically a master’s degree in dental hygiene) are also available. These programs emphasize research, but also include coursework. They create the potential for lucrative careers in healthcare management, teaching, or faculty positions in oral health programs and schools.
In order to work as a dental hygienist in the country, one needs to complete an accredited program from a dental hygiene school and then seek certification. The dental hygiene school must be accredited by the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Commission on Accreditation. To become certified, aspiring oral health practitioners need to pass a written and clinical exam. ADA is responsible for administering the written exam, while the clinical exam is administered by the state or a regional testing agency. Passing these evaluations lead to certification.
All 50 states require dental hygienists to be licensed. So anyone interested in working as a dental hygienist must first obtain a license in their state. Because licensure is granted by each individual state, the exact licensing requirements can vary. But, generally, candidates must hold postsecondary credentials from approved dental hygiene programs and pass written and practical exams. The written exam assesses the candidate’s knowledge of medical and scientific principles as well as facts relating to dental hygiene, while the practical part of the exam involves a demonstration of clinical skills. Licensure is only granted after successfully taking and passing each of these two tests. Prospective oral health practitioners should contact their state’s medical board for exact licensing requirements.
Dental Hygienist Job Outlook
The job outlook for oral health practitioners is exceptionally bright. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that being a dental hygienist is among the top fastest growing professions in the country. Their statistics indicate that employment in this field will grow 33% between 2012 and 2022. This is mainly due to modern advancements in dental technology and increased emphasis on the importance of oral health. As new dental technology is developed and implemented in both general and specialist dental offices, the demand for qualified hygienists who have been trained on the latest oral health procedures can only increase. Dentists can now spot early signs of teeth problems that can be rectified through preventative dental services offered by hygienists, thanks to the increasingly accurate modern technologies. Another factor that will spur the demand for licensed hygienists is the ongoing studies linking oral health and general health. Many people are now taking advantage of preventative dental services to enhance and maintain overall health. Lastly, “baby boomers” are opting to keep more of their original teeth than previous generations, and the need to maintain and treat these teeth is expected to continue driving demand for licensed oral health practitioners.
Employed people, by detailed occupation and gender, annual averages
Diagnostic related technologists and technicians
Total employed 184 (Numbers in thousands)
Percent Women 98.3%
(1) Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
(2) Women in Labor Force: http://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/cps/women-in-the-labor-force-a-databook-2014.pdf