How Can I Become a Dental Hygienist?

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Dental hygienist is an important member of any dental care practice, and whenever you schedule an appointment for a checkup, you’ll almost certainly be advised see the hygienist at the same time to have your teeth professionally cleaned. Dental hygienists are trained professionals who work under the guidance of a dentist, but often require relatively little supervision. Their job primarily involves preventative care and promoting dental hygiene by showing and advising patients on the best way to look after their teeth.

Dental Hygienist training

tooth cleaningHygienists need to have completed several years of training, and will have studied for at least an associate degree, diploma or certificate in dental hygiene. An associate degree takes two years to complete and is generally provided by dental schools, community colleges or universities. Applicants need to have completed their high school diploma and need to be able to demonstrate good proficiency in math, chemistry and biology, so it’s well worth while concentrating on these subjects during your final years of school. Gaining an associate degree is sufficient to have a career in private practice.

However many hygienists pursuing this career path choose to complete a four year bachelor’s degree. Choosing this path can provide much better career prospects and may be well worth considering, especially if you think you might like to teach later on or maybe even go into research. A bachelor’s degree is sometimes demanded by the larger healthcare facilities or public health services. After completing your chosen dental hygiene program you’ll need to obtain a state license before being allowed to practice. In some states you will have to take an exam, while others don’t have this requirement. The written exam is held by the American Dental Association, but the clinical examination is carried out by the state.

So what kind of career can you expect as a dental hygienist? One of the attractive aspects of this kind of work is its flexible scheduling, as around half of all dental hygienists work part-time. Many dental offices hire hygienists to work two or three days a week, so it’s not unusual to find hygienists working in more than one dental office. It’s also usual to have to work in the evenings and weekends, as many people simply cannot get to the dental office during the average working week.

It’s quite an interesting career as dental hygienists don’t just clean patient’s teeth, but also examine their teeth and gums and record any diseases or abnormalities. They can also perform periodontal therapy on patients with gum disease and can apply dental sealants or fluoride varnish to help prevent cavities. They can take x-rays and can help prepare clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for the dentist. Other tasks hygienists are allowed to perform can vary according to the state. However one of their most important jobs is helping patients look after their teeth properly. They can show patients how to floss correctly, and which toothbrush to choose. It’s an added bonus that this career is relatively well-paid.

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