There are a plethora of career choices which you can opt for when it comes to dentistry. But it should also be known that not everyone favors the extra responsibility that comes when you are a dentist. Similarly, not everyone has the means to take up all the extensive and expensive education to become a dentist in the first place. However, if you are still thinking about going for a career that is related to the field of dentistry, then one option for you can be to become a dental hygienist. For you to become a dental hygienist, you require less education compared to other dental-related fields. But you still get some amazing advantages like job security, job satisfaction, good salary, and great working conditions.
What is a Dental Hygienist?
A dental hygienist is also called an oral health practitioner. In basic terms, they are health care professionals that work in a clinic with the dental team in order to assist the people in preventing various health issues. Dental hygienists help in treating all oral problems that are related to the gums and teeth; their major role is the prevention of various dental problem instead of treating them.
What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?
A dental hygienist assists the dentist in performing various procedures like polishing the teeth, scaling, and cleaning the teeth. He or she might also help to apply tropical products like fissure sealants and fluoride on patients. A dental hygienist has various settings that they can pick from as the environment they want to be in for their work. He or she can choose from hospitals, general dental practices, and community dentistry practices. As a dental hygienist working in the hospital, your job will also involve assisting the orthodontist during surgery and other complex treatments. You might also have to work one-on-one with many patients to help not only prevent but also treat health problems that are linked to the gums and teeth. You might also have to design a customized program for ensuring dental hygiene of the patients. So, in short, dental hygienists assist patients in maintaining good oral health. For instance, they might explain the link between a patient's diet and their overall oral health. They might also advise patients on the kind of toothbrush they should choose and other devices that are beneficial for their oral care. Other duties that you would be responsible for include:
• Remove plaque, stains, and tartar from the teeth
• Apply fluoride and sealants to help keep the teeth protected
• Take dental x-rays and develop them
• Document the treatment plans and care of the patients
• Assess the oral health of the patients and then report the findings to the dentist
• Educate the patients about various techniques for oral hygiene like the right way to floss and brush
What Tools Will You Be Using?
As dental hygienists, you will have to use many different kinds of tools. For cleaning and polishing of the teeth, you will be using either your hand or ultrasonic tools. You might even have to use lasers in a few cases. To remove stains, you will use an air polishing device. This device sprays out a mixture of baking soda, air, and water. For polishing teeth, you will be using a powered tool which functions as an automatic toothbrush does. You will also have to be familiar with the x-ray machines for checking a patient for any jaw and tooth problems.
The program for dental hygienist can range anywhere from 24 months to 27 months. It can be longer as well, and all the programs are full-time. The courses for dental hygienists covers a number of subjects including the following:
• Dental health education
• Preventive dentistry
• General patient care
• Dental pathology
Continuing the training is also vital for learning new things and staying updated with all the latest advancements that have been made with regards to dental care techniques. As a result, the hygienist will be able to treat the patients better. Some dental schools offer a combined program and include both dental therapy and dental hygiene. To register as a dental hygienist and practice, you need a Diploma in Dental Hygiene; one which is recognized openly. You would also need 5 GCSEs or the education equal to it to be eligible for a course to become a dental hygienist. Having biology and English as your subjects is compulsory. You would also need 2 A-levels subjects or a Dental Nursing qualification which is recognized.
Is Becoming a Dental Hygienist a Good Career Choice?
Becoming a dental hygienist is actually a great choice if you have a keen interest in the dentistry field. It is also particularly beneficial for individuals who want to take a less rigorous and comparatively shorter program than the actual dentist training program. There are a lot of perks that come with becoming a dental hygienist. Of course, there is a fantastic paycheck fortnightly; however, there are other reasons as well that can make the job even better!
Perks of Becoming a Dental Hygienist
Along with a guaranteed paycheck, you also get the following benefits if you become a dental hygienist
• A flexible schedule
This is perhaps the biggest perk of becoming a dental hygienist. When it comes to the field of dentistry, various kinds of schedules work. They can range from full-time schedules to part-time and even a work schedule that is just limited to the weekend. A majority of the dental hygienists are employed in more than one offices, and they work a maximum of two days in a week in each office. Of course, when the dental office is busier than usual, then you will have to change your personal schedule a bit. However, in a majority of the cases, you will have the authority to set up your own hours.
• Great, competitive salary
The dental industry is in dire need of staff members that are reliable and have the experience and ability to manage numerous tasks at once. As a result, all the hard work is compensated with regards to the efforts you make. According to a survey, the yearly average salary for dental hygienists for the year 2016-17 is around $71,000. The actual salary also varies greatly depending on numerous factors including specialization, experience, and location.
• Stability of the job
Nowadays, the world's population is increasing at an exponential rate. Preventative care now gets a high priority than before. As a result, the career path of a dental hygienist is considered to be one of those occupations that grow greatly in a short time. For a dental hygienist, this means that he or she will have a high demand continuously whether they have just completed a certification program or are in the initial stages of their career.
• Atmosphere is people-oriented
All of the dental offices aim to make their patients feel extremely relaxed as they learn the best techniques for taking care of their gums and teeth in a proper manner. So, as a dental hygienist, you will be working in such an environment that is not only very comfortable but is also very friendly. Plus, you will be interacting with many different types of people on a regular basis. If you love to help out others and understand the vitality of oral health, then becoming a dental hygienist will work out for you wonderfully.
• Great opportunities for making advancements
If you want to start your career as a dental hygienist in your own private office, then you need to have an associate's degree or a certificate at the least. Training programs for dental hygienists are well-organized so that the students can efficiently finish them and get a nice amount of practical, hands-on experience. Moreover, once you start working as a dental hygienist, you can enroll yourself in classes and complete your bachelor's degree or master's degree. Once you get the degree, loads of opportunities for advancement opens up for you. in fact, you can even pursue a career in teaching those aiming to become a dental hygiene. Or, you can switch to the field of research.
How Favorable is the Job Outlook for Prospective Dental Hygienists?
The employment chances for dental hygienists are expected to grow by 19% during the 2014 to 2024 timeframe. This expected growth is much more accelerated than the average growth for all other occupations. Moreover, the ongoing research that links general health with oral health will keep on increasing the demand for dental hygienists.
Furthermore, the demand for these preventative dental services will continue to increase as the population starts to ages. It will also increase as cosmetic dental services become popular, and health insurance becomes increasingly common. The current generation tends to retain a greater percentage of their original set of teeth as compared to the previous generations. Therefore, there will be a dire need to maintain these teeth. As a result, the demand for dental care will continue to increase. Various cosmetic dental services like treatments for teeth-whitening have become very popular. This particular trend will continue to grow as advancement in technology allows faster and less invasive procedures. The number of people that can get access to health insurance is also expected to keep on increasing due to recent reforms. Those people that have new dental insurance coverage and those who got their dental insurance coverage expanded will visit an oral health caretaker more. Consequently, the demand for all the different kinds of dental services will grow which also includes the demand for hygienists. As the need for various dental services grows, the number of graduates (who went through dental hygiene programs) also increases. As a result, there is a slight competition for the high-end jobs. Candidates that want to get a full-time job as a dental hygienist can expect the most competition. Meanwhile, people that have prior work experience will have great job opportunities. Moreover, new workforce models that are based on dental hygiene have started to emerge, and they might provide more opportunities for all aspiring dental hygienists.
Salary for Dental Hygienists
As a dental hygienist, you will be able to enjoy rewarding careers along with getting the satisfaction helping patients have better health orally, on a daily basis. You will also be able to enjoy a very satisfactory work-life balance since most of the dental offices have typical working hours. Regardless of all the perks, the financial aspect of the career is also crucial to consider particularly for such individuals that want to make a particular amount of income annually. Dental hygienists that are in the initial stages of their career can expect their annual income to be around $50,000. For, those dental hygienists that are better known and are more in-demand, the expected annual income can be around $100,000.
Becoming a dental hygienist involves the completion of two steps.
1. Find a School
The first step is to attend a dental hygienist school. A majority of dental hygienist get an associate’s degree. Completion of this degree takes around two years. The schooling includes all the time required to be spent in the classroom, labs, as well as the duration of the clinical experience. Having some clinical experience is vital so that you get some real-world experience before starting your own career.
All the countries require the dental hygienists to get their license. To start the process of getting yourself licensed, you first need to graduate from a dental hygiene school that is accredited. Once you are ready to be licensed, you will have to contact the state boards to figure out the requirements that you need to fulfill. Most likely you will have to clear an exam held by the national board along with a clinical exam conducted by the state. Moreover, you will also have to be CPR-certified. A background check will also be done. Moreover, you will have to complete the continuing education courses while you work as a dental hygienist.
What Degrees are Available for Dental Hygienists?
Varying from the associate’s degree to the master’s degree, you have a number of schooling options when it comes to becoming a dental hygienist. The key is to pick out one which helps you meet the career goals you have set out for yourself.
The Associate’s Degree
Apart from learning the different procedures and techniques for dental hygiene, an associate’s degree will also aid you in having a clearer understanding of the dental science. The course teaches you the method of making the right decisions when it comes to patient care. It also polishes the critical thinking skills while improving your ability to solve problems. Earning the associate’s degree helps you prepare for working with people from different backgrounds. It also teaches you the method of communicating and interacting with healthcare professionals. Apart from getting science and dental courses, you also get to take a few liberal arts courses. You will be enrolled in public speaking and English composition classes. As a result, you will have a well-rounded experience. You will also be better prepared to work in the real world.
Degree completion programs are designed particularly for those dental hygienists that have an associate’s degree or certification. Such programs result in a baccalaureate degree. To enroll yourself in such programs, you need to have a license. These programs have been designed for those dental hygienists that have started their career, so, many of the schools offer their courses in either a hybrid format or they post all of it online. In a majority of the cases, there is no need to fulfill any clinical requirements. Such programs can be completed within 15 to 18 months; however, students have the choice of taking these courses at their preferred pace. The flexibility to learn at your own comfort helps you manage workload as well as family obligations. Since the associate’s degree equips you with all the practical skills required to start your career as a dental hygienist, the degree-completion program focuses mainly on teaching leadership skills. It also works on familiarizing you with practices based on evidence. Apart from a license, the only other requirement is to have GPA of 2.5 or higher.
Programs for bachelor's degree are not as common as programs for associate's degree. However, there are a few programs that help you get ready for a career inside a dental office, as well as outside. Enrolling yourself in this 4-year degree is especially useful for you if you want to teach, work in public health programs, school programs, or clinical practice, or take part in research. There are some dentists that give preference to hygienists that have a bachelor's degree. For a bachelor’s program as well, you have to complete some prerequisite coursework. The courses in associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree are more or less the same and include classes like radiology, dental anatomy, and dental materials. However, you will also be covering some complex topics including the following
• Business management
• The different teaching strategies for dental professions
• Dental research and public health
• The basics of practicing independently
After getting a master’s degree, it is not necessary for you to pursue your career as a dental hygienist. Once you get a graduate degree, you can start your career in different fields like administration, leadership, education, and advocacy. Dental hygienists that take up advanced schooling can also choose the following professions
• Specialist for prevention of oral diseases
• Leaders in alternative career paths for dental hygienist in the sector of public health, education, health care, and research
• Program directors
Finishing the program can take from one year or two years. It all depends on whether you attend the courses full-time or part-time. Once you complete all of the required coursework, you will have to do a capstone project. Typically, this involves conducting research in a certain aspect of dental hygiene. If you want to apply for a master’s degree in dental hygiene, then you will need to have the following:
• A bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene or some related field
• A GPA of 3.0 or higher
• College transcripts
• A current license for practicing dental hygiene
• Score from GRE
• Letters of recommendation
Some of the schools may also ask you for your resume, or they might ask you to compose your career statement. In the case where you left the dentistry field for some time because of family commitments or personal problems, then you also have the option of returning back to your career as a dental hygienist. Many institutes offer courses for re-entry education that can help you get back on track. Perhaps the great thing about such programs is that the institute often adjusts them according to your needs. However, most of these programs require a phone interview or pre-screening to determine if you are eligible for these programs or not. Moreover, you also need to have graduated from an accredited program for dental hygiene. The majority of the re-entry programs need more than a single participant and you might also have to do all the clinical work on the weekends.
Accredited Schools for Dental Hygiene
To figure out which hygiene school you should enroll yourself in, you will need to compare the criteria of their programs. You should look for programs that have flexible schedules and respected professors. Do note down the tuition and whether you can afford it or not. Don’t forget to check the accreditation as it is compulsory for when you want to be licensed. Make sure that you review the objectives of the school, the curriculum content, and the learning experience as well. This will ensure that you get a valuable educational experience. The best way to figure out if you fulfill all the requirements of a program for a dental hygienist is to attend a session. By attending information sessions, you can get an idea of the program. You will have the opportunity of getting all your queries answered. Remember, you will need to complete some courses before applying for a program, and your GPA should not be less than 2.5.