A program that prepares individuals to clean teeth and apply preventive materials, provide oral health education and treatment counseling to patients, identify oral pathologies and injuries, and manage dental hygiene practices. Includes instruction in dental anatomy, microbiology, and pathology; dental hygiene theory and techniques; cleaning equipment operation and maintenance; dental materials; radiology; patient education and counseling; office management; supervised clinical training; and professional standards.

 

Dental Hygienist Careers in Dentistry

A program that prepares individuals to clean teeth and apply preventive materials, provide oral health education and treatment counseling to patients, identify oral pathologies and injuries, and manage dental hygiene practices. Includes instruction in dental anatomy, microbiology, and pathology; dental hygiene theory and techniques; cleaning equipment operation and maintenance; dental materials; radiology; patient education and counseling; office management; supervised clinical training; and professional standards.

 

Day-to-Day Work Life

Career prospects for dental hygienists are currently excellent

On the job, dental hygienists professionally clean teeth with dental instruments --- every one of the six surfaces of the thirty-two teeth --- a procedure called a dental prophylaxis. Patients are logically scheduled one every hour. Dental hygiene is a career that easily accommodates part-time and flex-time, as well as full-time, working.

Clinical dental hygiene is not a career that can at all be performed remotely. Like dentistry, clinical dental hygiene is on the front-lines of patient care, and rigorous infection-control practices are essential. Dentistry learned many lessons about infection control during the 1980s AIDS epidemic and remains one of the medical professions with the most practical knowledge and rigorous application of infection control protocols already in place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic

Oral health is the gateway to good systemic health. Dental hygienists practice in general dentistry offices, and in the offices of all the dental specialties. The limits of dental hygiene practice are established by the various state dental boards, and vary from state to state but include, for instance, under the direction of the supervising dentist in the practice, patient screening procedures --- assessing the oral health condition, reviewing the health history, assessing patient vital signs, and taking and developing dental x-rays. Depending on the practice, the hygienist (or the assistant) makes impressions of patients' teeth as models to be used by the dentist doing the patient’s treatment

The actual dental prophylaxis (prophy) procedure removes plaque and calculus from all surfaces of all the teeth. The hygienist then commonly polishes the teeth and applies sealants and fluorides (preventive materials) to the teeth. The hygienist counsels good nutrition and instructs the proper dental hygiene home care regimen

Consider this article in Registered Dental Hygienist magazine about another side of the reality of being a dental hygienist: working in a highly stressful dental office where the work could be better allocated between the dental hygienist and the dental assistant

And, read this other first-person account from Dental Products magazine

As the American Dental Association points out, dental hygiene is a career with many benefits: the flexibility in hours --- the abundance of part-time and flex-time work, and the ability to leave the career for an amount of time and then return, picking up easily where one has left off --- job security and prestige as a stable healthcare profession, and the variety, creativity, and personal satisfaction of the work.

 

Dental Hygienist Salary

The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $76,220 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $103,340.

Benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and retirement contributions, vary by employer and may be available only to full-time workers.

Many dental hygienists work part time. Dentists may hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist.1

 

Where to study and learn to be a dental hygienist

The American Dental Hygienists Association is the umbrella membership organization for trained and licensed dental hygienists, providing government and professional advocacy, continuing education opportunities, and career guidance, acting as a forum and clearinghouse for dental hygiene research and education opportunities, and providing support to the dental hygiene practice community

Keep in mind that only the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits programs in dental hygiene. To find an accredited program in dental hygiene, use this weblink from the American Dental Association.

The ADA’s Commission on Dental Accreditation currently certifies 351 dental hygiene programs, in institutes of higher education ranging from regional technical schools to community college to universities.

The American Dental Hygienists Association offers a link here to programs, breaking down the programs it knows about into categories: those best suited for entry-level learners; degree completion programs --- meaning programs that offer a bachelor’s degree (BS/BA) to individuals already possessing a certificate as a registered dental hygienist (RDH); programs ideally positioned to accommodate re-entry or mid-/second-career learners; programs that offer master’s degrees in dental hygiene (MSDH) or related disciplines; and programs accommodating online/distance education.

The ADHA discusses in this online fact sheet an issue facing American higher education, the proliferation of non-accredited programs in for-profit schools (some schools and programs are accredited by the ADA, and some aren’t). The ADHA says it welcomes student and faculty members from accredited programs in for-profit institutions, and makes statements of its concern for the proliferation of such programs damaging the (currently excellent) employment prospects of dental hygienists generally

In this article, the ADHA states that it is the conventions of state practice laws that really decide in a general way what kind of school is necessary to qualify for a license as a dental hygienist. Like dentists, dental hygienists require licensure from state dental boards, continuing education, and a clean criminal record in order to obtain and maintain a license to practice their career.

The American Dental Hygiene Association offers this fact-sheet of tips to help you determine the best dental hygiene program for your particular situation

The fact sheet points out important questions to ask of any program seeking your tuition dollars in exchange for education.

For instance, ask

What are the relevant numbers of students who, once enrolled, actually finish your program (attrition rate)?

What percentage of graduates pass the national board exam on the first attempt?

What percentage of graduates pass the clinical licensing exam on the first try?

What percentage of graduates find full-time employment as a clinical hygienist within several months of graduation?

More than ever, when choosing a place to study and learn, research your options.

 

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Hygienists