If you are interested in working in one of the fastest growing careers in the United States, consider becoming a dental hygienist. According to statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for dental hygienists is expected to grow by nearly 40 percent by 2020. Let us discuss more about how to become a dental hygienist.
To begin with, you will need to have completed high school or received your GED before you will be allowed to enter a dental hygienist program. Other educational requirements include the following:
- Most programs show a preference to those who have completed one year of college
- High school level courses including math, speech, chemistry, psychology, biology and health are beneficial
- Many programs require a minimum of a “C” average in your high school grades
- Many states require that candidates complete a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) course.
Depending on your preferences and your entrance approval, you can take many courses.
- A two-year certificate or associate’s degree program at a technical school, as long as the program you enroll in is accredited and will assist you with passing the National Board exam
- An applied sciences associate’s degree program in dental hygiene, typically run by a community college. These programs normally take two years to complete and include both classroom and clinical studies.
- Apply to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. This course of study will require that the student take the general liberal arts prerequisites along with science and clinical dental studies. If you want to enter a master’s degree in the future, this is the best course of study.
As important as the education is the training required. Along with clinical studies, other areas include the following:
- Interpersonal skills
- Decision making skills
- Computer skills including dental billing software, charting software and dental office management software
- Technical training including dental x-ray machines, teeth cleaning tools and devices, lasers, probes and dental scalers
Additionally, dexterity and physical stamina is required because dental hygienists often spend long periods standing to work on patients.
Dental hygienists can obtain their certification at community colleges or university schools of dentistry. Most of these schools will prepare you to pass both the national and state dental hygiene exams upon completion. Some may even let you transfer your credits to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program if you wish to do so. You will also be required to complete clinical requirements. Certification programs introduce you to the following topics of oral care:
- Preventative care
- Dental anatomy
- Oral anesthesiology
- Use of dental materials
- Dental radiology
All states require dental hygienists to be licensed in order to provide patient education and dental hygiene care. Nearly all states also require that hygienists be graduates of accredited programs before becoming eligible for state licensing. Another requirement is that candidates for licensing obtain a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam, which is a comprehensive written exam, along with requiring the candidate to pass a state-authorized license exam. Upon completion of these exams, you will be eligible to work in general, pediatric and periodontal offices.
Once you have completed the requirements and have obtained the proper certifications, try contacting local dentist offices to find out if they have openings. If they do not, ask them to keep a copy of your resume on file so they can notify you of any future openings. Alternately, you may opt to move to areas that have more job openings in this field. Another option to help you find employment is to network within the local dental community. Attend job fairs and conferences that will help to put you in contact with more dental offices in the state you live in.