Dental hygienists are licensed dental healthcare professionals who work alongside dentists, independently, or in a team setting in order to provide preventative oral care. They often work in private dental offices, public health clinics, research facilities, dental schools, and hospitals. Nearly all dental hygienists work in professional dentists’ offices that serve the public with more than half working part time.
Dental Hygienist Requirements
Dental hygienists generally need an associate’s degree to become a professional in the field of dental hygiene, with either a 2-year or 4-year degree. Most programs last two years and are usually offered through technical colleges or community colleges.
The main coursework will consist of the following classes:
• Microbiology and Immunology
• Physiology and anatomy
• Dental anatomy
• Introduction to dental hygiene
• Patient and pain management
• Pharmacology studies for dental hygiene
The various courses cover clinical, laboratory, and classroom training.
All states require dental hygienists to be licensed, although the requirements typically vary from state to state. They can earn on average about $70,200. In most states, licensure necessitates obtaining a degree from an accredited dental program and subsequently passing clinical and written exams that are administered by the ADA (American Dental Association) Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations.
Upon earning their license, all dental hygienists can use “RDH” following their names in order to indicate they’re a Registered Dental Hygienist professional.
Dental Hygienist Qualifications in the State of Oregon
• Must be 18 years or older
• Must be a graduate from a dental hygiene program that’s accredited by the Commission on the Dental Accreditation of the ADA
• Or, if the candidate graduated from a non-ADA accredited program and successfully completed a program of a year or more that’s accredited by the ADA
• Must carry an active license in order to legally practice dental hygiene with no restrictions in another state
• Must successfully pass a clinical exam for dental hygiene administered by a State licensing board or regional testing facility
• Must have performed licensed dental hygiene practice in other states, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, U.S. Public Health Service, or the U.S. Armed Forces for a minimum of 3,500 hours within five years before applying
• Pass the Jurisprudence exam administered by the Board
• Must successfully complete 24 hours of continuing education approved by the Board in two years or less immediately prior to applying
What to Consider
Working as a professional dental hygienist is more than just giving fluoride treatments and scraping plaque. Anyone hoping to obtain a position in the field will benefit by incorporating a good work ethic, problem-solving skills, positive attitude, and strong communication skills. Having a wide range of diverse talents and abilities is a great advantage in obtaining a degree in dental hygiene, which will provide open access to key fields beyond mainstream private dental practice. At the same time, most of these necessary skills are better developed through ongoing experience and easily carry over into other areas as well.
Today, private practice dental hygiene careers are somewhat more difficult to secure. However, successfully securing one could definitely increase the possibilities for dental hygienists to further advance in their chosen field and potentially earn more money. It’s important for hygienists to closely examine their skills, what they have to offer, and apply them to their career.
Overall, dental hygienists are needed in both general dentistry and specialty practices including pediatric dentistry and periodontics. They also work in various other settings including hospitals, public health clinics, and nursing homes as well.
Based upon their level of experience and education, dental hygienists can readily apply their learned skills and expertise to other relevant job activities including teaching courses on hygiene in dentistry schools and similar educational programs. Business administration, office management, and research are other viable career options. Opportunities for employment may also include marketing dental-based equipment and materials.
The general job outlook for the field of dental hygienists is expected to grow as much as 35 percent from now until the year 2022, which is much quicker than the national average concerning most other occupations. Continuing research that links general health to oral health will keep encouraging further demand for dental services that are commonly provided by licensed professional dental hygienists.