How to Become a Dental Hygienist

What is a dental hygienist? Dental hygienists works in a dental office to help patients maintain their dental health.

dental hygienistThe dental hygienist job description includes:

  • taking and developing patient x-rays
  • instructing patients on proper oral hygiene
  • removing stains
  • removing plaque
  • removing tarter from teeth and gums
  • scaling and root planing
  • applying sealants and fluorides
  • tracking patient care and treatment plans

The specific duties may vary among specific dental hygienist jobs in various offices. Dental hygienists work under the supervision of a dentist.

If you are wondering how to become a dental hygienist, then you will want to know that each state has specific requirements for licensure and certification. Traditionally, the dental hygienist will hold an associates degree in dental hygiene.

Although there are certificates and high level degrees—bachelors and masters—most dental hygienist jobs do not require them. These degrees are more appropriate for people who want to teach, do research, or perform clinical practice in the public sphere, such as school health programs.

Getting Educated

To prepare for the associates degree in dental hygiene, the high school students should load up on science courses. Chemistry, biology and even math classes will be of help.

Be sure to take at least four years of science and math. Courses in sociology and psychology will be helpful as well. Any activities which help develop your people skills will be useful in dental hygienist jobs.

Dental hygienist requirements include coursework in:

  • physiology
  • anatomy
  • radiography
  • periodontology
  • and nutrition

Some programs require dental hygienist hopefuls to complete a year of general college coursework before applying.

After completing the training, most states require licensure. Each state has its own requirements, but typically a two-year degree plus a written and clinical exam are required.

Skills You Should Learn

Dental hygienist jobs are most successfully held by candidates who are compassionate, detail-oriented, high in stamina, possess dexterity, and have good interpersonal skills.

Patients are often in a tremendous amount of pain during procedures. Many patients experience a lot of mental distress just entering the dentist’s office. The dental hygienist must be sensitive to that fear and pain.

Additionally, dental hygienist candidates should be good critical thinkers and active listeners. Their communication—both oral expression and comprehension, reading comprehension, social perceptiveness, and writing skills should be well developed.

Good judgment is important as well. The dental hygienist must be able to interpret the meaning of patient information for others.

Since the hygienist has more contact with the patient, there is a good chance she may be privy to something the patient said in passing which could be valuable. She must be able to interpret that information to know what questions to ask and what needs to be shared with the dentist.

Dental Hygienist Job Duties

Typically, the dental hygienist will have the initial contact with the patient, during which time she will assess the patient by taking a medical history, taking any needed x-rays, and performing a clinical exam.

She will document this entire interaction thoroughly. She will report her findings to the dentist, who determines the course of treatment.

Technical skill is a must in this job as the dental hygienist uses a number of tools including the dental laser, dental probe, dental scalers, teeth cleaning devices, and dental x-ray units. Acumen and familiarity with these tools is imperative to dental hygienists job success.

Perks of Being a Dental Hygienist

The rewards of dental hygienist jobs are great. People in this position report high personal satisfaction. Since their days are spent helping patients improve their dental health, this is not surprising.

Dental hygienists are a respected member of the dental health community. Many dentists openly say they couldn’t run their practice without their talented team. Each day on the job is different, so many dental hygienists enjoy the diverse and dynamic nature of their jobs.

Many offices offer flexibility in scheduling. Some dental hygienists work part-time, while others work full-time. Some offices are offering evening and weekend appointments, which allow the dental hygienist a great deal of flexibility.

There is also a lot of job security in this field. The emphasis on prevention in dental health has exploded this industry. Combined with the older population’s need for care, dental hygienists enjoy a high level of demand.