Becoming A Dental Hygienist – A Definitive Career Guide!

dental hygienist career

Earlier, dental hygienist had the least attraction among all medical professions. However, the trend has now changed. Today, becoming a dental hygienist is a dream for everyone since it is among the best-paid jobs of today with a lot of scope. Having a dental hygienist is not only confined to a few clinics or hospitals but is now a requisite for most medical and non-medical setups.

If you dream to pursue dental hygiene as your profession, then this comprehensive career guide will inform you all the necessary details that you need to begin your career.

What is a Dental Hygienist? A Quick Look

The job responsibilities of a ‘dental hygienist’ are not the same as that of a ‘dentist’.A dental hygienist takes care of everything from providing dental treatment to taking x-rays, cosmetic dental procedures, and preventive remedies. He or she works in close coordination with the dentists, facilitating them in conducting their duties. 

As a dental hygienist, you are liable for the oral health care of the patients with a lot of primary and secondary medical procedures. Precisely, your job duties might include,

  • Providing valuable advice to the patients regarding oral health and safety
  • Advising patients about the best oral care equipment and treatments
  • Performing direct medical procedures, such as teeth polishing, scraping, and developing x-rays
  • Taking patients medical histories, documenting treatments, and scheduling appointments

Being a professional dental hygienist, you will most probably be working with a dentist. However, your professional scope is not restricted to such clinical setups only. Rather, you may also choose to work in other health care facilities and community clinics. 

Career Outlook

Dental Hygienist School
Dental Hygienist School

Dreaming of becoming a dental hygienistis easier. But the persistent opposition for this profession by your acquaintances might bewilder you. Consequently, you may begin giving a second thought to, or simplyabandon your idea of becoming a dental hygienist.

Well, if you are looking for some concrete reasons to choose the dental hygienist career, then let us brief you about it.

Today, the scope and growth prospects for a dental hygienist have broadened a lot. As estimated by BLS, the demand for this profession will rise for about 20% in the years to come, with approximately 40,900 new job opportunities in this niche by the year 2026. This number is significantly higher than the 14% increase in job prospects for other health technologist jobs.

As a professional hygienist, you no more work as an “assistant” to a qualified dentist. In fact, if you continue your education in this niche and earn a Master’s degree, you can easily start your own clinic. 

How Much Does A Dental Hygienist Make?

Another prospective question that you might want to ask is about the earnings. Of course, when you opt for any profession as a full-time career, you aim to earn more. The same applies when you think of becoming a dental hygienist. 

Well, as a dental hygienist today, the growth opportunities and earnings are limitless. It all depends on how proactive you remain while working. 

Most dental hygienists work in part-time. Still, the median salary fora dental hygienist as estimated in 2016 was around $72,910. 10% of these professionals were earning their best at $100,170, whereas, the lowest paid 10% of them ended up making $50,870 (still better than most others jobs, isn’t it?)

Pros Of Becoming A Dental Hygienist

Apart from a good salary, you would enjoy various other benefits as well when you become a dental hygienist. After knowing these pros, you would certainly pat your back for taking such a wise decision about your career.

  • Astounding Growth Opportunities –As said above, there has been a tremendous increase in the job opportunities for a dental hygienist in the past few years. And the number will continue to rise in the next 8-10 years too. Hence, you apparently have an ample amount of time to establish yourself as a recognized professional.
  • Minimal School Requirements –To enter the realm of dental hygiene, you don’t have to wait for years to complete extensive degrees. You are offered various dental hygienist programs, from an Associate Certification to a full-fledged Master’s program. It means that you can immediately start as a dental hygienist after earning an Associate Degree within 2 years. Once entered and licensed, you may then wish to continue your education. 
  • Work-Life Balance –As a dental hygienist, you can enjoy the best work-life balance since you can choose to work as full-time or part-time. Moreover, you are not obliged to be present in your workplace on weekends, nights, or holidays. 

Dental Hygienist School

Now that you are interested in becoming a dental hygienist, it’s time to look up for a professional school to become trained and certified for this profession.

For becoming a dental hygienist, you can choose either of the three Degree Programs described below. Completing these programs is essential to obtain a dental hygienist certification to step into this domain formally.

However, becoming a dental hygienist is not a piece of cake. You have to fulfill certain requirements to qualify for admission toa specific degree program. 

Dental Hygienist Requirements For Degree Program

Since dental hygiene is a profession related to medicine and healthcare, you must be having biology related background to qualify for a program. Besides, you may belong to any of the following subjects as your majors.

  • Human Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry (preferably organic)
  • Sociology

Moreover, for an Associate Degree Program, students are required to qualify certain prerequisite courses with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Plus, you must have a license to enroll in this program successfully. The same is required for a Bachelor’s Degree Program too.

Whereas, for a Master’s Degree Program, you must qualify the following eligibility criteria.

  • BS in dental hygiene or any relevant field
  • GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • A valid license
  • GRE Scores
  • Previous transcripts and letter of recommendation from your college. Sometimes, you may also have to submit a resume or a personal statement, or both.

Now that you know the requisites for entering the degree programs,let’s take a look on what these programs offer to the students.

1. Associate’s Degree/Certificate Program

An associate degree program is an entry-level program to let you get started as a dental hygienist. Completed in 2 years, you get acquainted with various dental specialties while studying in this program, such as dental radiography, anatomy, pathology, clinical dental hygiene and prevention of oral diseases.

Once you successfully achieve this degree, you can take on the required examinations to become a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) to begin working as a professional.

2. Bachelor’s Degree Program

It is a 4-years Bachelor’s of Studies (BS) Degree Program that empowers you to qualify for advanced roles in the field. Though the courses offered here are somewhat similar to those offeredi n the Associate Degree Program, the difference lies in the in-depth coverage of the courses. Besides the regular courses, you will also be taught about Oral Biochemistry, Periodontal Diseases, and Principles of Pharmacology.

3. Master’s Degree Program

This degree program is not as popular as the Associate and BS Programs. Nonetheless, having a Master’s Degree not only paves your way to becoming a dental hygienist, but also empowers you as an academic faculty, researcher, or a leader in the dental education and health programs.

You can either complete your degree within 1 year as a full-time student. Or, you may choose to study part-time, but it will take you about 2-3 years to becomes a Master of this subject.

Average Dental Hygienist School Cost

The choice of a dental hygiene school depends largely on the type of program you opt for and the associated program fee. Most of the dental hygienist colleges offer these programs with a similar fee structure.

According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, most states offer dental hygiene degree programs according to the following fee structure.

  • Associate Degree Program: $ 22,692
  • Bachelor’s Degree Program: $ 36,382
  • Master’s Degree Program: $ 30,421

As you can see, the Bachelor’s Degree Program bears the highest fee structure since it is the most valued degree in the field. Owing to its comprehensive nature and importance, students opting for this 4-year program are obliged to pay somewhat higher amounts. If you cannot afford to pay for this degree without a job, you can opt for an Associate Degree and begin your career. Once you establish yourself and start earning, you can then increase your worth by earning a BS degree as well.

Obtaining A License Or Dental Hygienist Certification

Having a license or certification is essential for becoming a dental hygienist in every state.

To qualify for a license, you need to pass certain written and clinical examinations from an accredited dental hygiene program.

Moreover, you need to have a least passing score of 75 in every section of American Dental Hygiene Licensing Exam.

Besides, you have to clear the exams recommended by the Council of National Boards of the American Dental Association. 

Once you fulfill these requirements, you can obtain a license as a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH). You may then write “RDH” after your names to highlight your registered stance. Then onward, you can continue on the successful journey of becoming a dental hygienist and establishing yourself as a professional.