Medical Professions Resources Directory: Dental Hygienist

How To Become a...


How to Become a Dental Hygienist


Dental hygienists remove soft and hard deposits from teeth, they teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene and they provide other preventive dental care. Dental hygienists examine patients teeth and gums, they then record the patients chart for any presence of diseases or abnormalities. They also remove calculus, stains and plaque from teeth, they perform root therapy, take and develop dental x-rays, and apply cavity preventive fluorides to the teeth. In some states in the United States some dental hygienists get to administer anesthetics, place and carve filling materials onto the teeth, do temporary fillings and periodontal dressings, remove sutures and smooth and polish metal restorations. Because dental hygienists are not dentists, they can not diagnose diseases, but they can prepare clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for the dentist to interpret. During some patient treatments a dental hygienist can work chairside with the dentist. Another job the dental hygienist does is help patients develop and maintain good oral health by explaining to the patient the difference between diet and oral health, or help them select a toothbrush and show them how to brush and floss their teeth.

Dental hygienists use their hands and instruments that rotate to clean and polish teeth, use an x-ray machines to take a patients teeth x-ray to see if the patient has any cavities, syringes with needles to administer local anesthetic and models of teeth to explain oral hygiene. Dental hygienists have flexible schedules, they could have either a full time, part time, evening, or a weekend job schedule. Some dentists would want a dental hygienist to work only 2 or 3 days out of the week, which is why some dental hygienists might hold jobs in more than one dental office. More than half of all dental hygienists work part time which is less than 35 hours a week.

Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. Dental hygienists must be licensed by the State in which they practice. To qualify for license, a candidate must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school and pass both a written and clinical examination. The American Dental Association Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the written examination, which is accepted by all States and the District of Columbia. State or regional testing agencies administer the clinical examination. In addition, most States require an examination on the legal aspects of dental hygiene practice. Alabama allows candidates to take its examinations if they have been trained through a State-regulated on-the-job program in a dentist's office.

Most dental hygiene programs grant an associate degree, although some also offer a certificate, a bachelor's degree, or a master's degree. A minimum of an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene is required for practice in a private dental office. A bachelor's or master's degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

About half of the dental hygiene programs prefer applicants who have completed at least 1 year of college. However, requirements vary from one school to another. Schools offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition, radiography, histology (the study of tissue structure), periodontology (the study of gum diseases), pathology, dental materials, clinical dental hygiene, and social and behavioral sciences.

Median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $26.59 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $21.96 and $32.48 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17.34, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39.24 an hour. And benefits vary on where you work. ADA found that 9 out of 10 full-time and part-time dental hygienists received dental coverage. Dental hygienists who work for school systems, public health agencies, the Federal Government, or State agencies usually have substantial benefits.





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