How Do You Become a Dental Hygienist?

dental hygienistIf you’re looking into the dental field for career opportunities, you may be wondering how you become a dental hygienist. It’s a good option to explore, especially considering the rapid job growth expected in the profession over the next several years. Although 183,000 dental hygienists are already registered in the U.S., the need for quality hygienists continues to grow, partly due to the fact that Americans are taking dental care more seriously. There seems to be a growing understanding that dental health is an important part of general health.

The Important Role of a Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist is really a front-line worker in a dental office. While actual dentists primarily work on a patient’s mouth when a problem has been identified, dental hygienists do much of the work of preventative dental maintenance. It’s their job to help clean patients’ teeth, including scraping away tartar and plaque. Hygienists provide their patients with information and skills they need to properly to take care of their teeth. They also take x-rays of teeth, provide fluoride treatments and assist dentists in dental procedures such as the filling of cavities or other oral care work. Because hygienists spend so much time with the patient, they need to be skilled communicators in addition to being skilled in providing dental care. Some dental hygienists are especially skilled at working with specific populations, such as children or children with special needs.

Steps to Becoming a Dental Hygienist

All states require that dental hygienists are licensed. The requirements tend to vary, but in general, you can expect that you will need to graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school. Some hygienists enter the field with an associates degree, though bachelor’s degrees and even graduate level degrees are also available. Once you have graduated from an accredited school, you will need to take an exam which includes both practical and written components.

You can learn more about these requirements, and about the more than 300 accredited schools for dental hygienists, by contacting the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA). The ADHA is a great resource ad provides special membership rates for students enrolled in an accredited dental hygiene program. Their website provides a career center with information about licensure, practice resources for the national exam, information about schools, scholarships and grants and a career board where you can look for open positions once you’ve completed your training and licensure. They also offer continuing education opportunities to their members and also to non-members. Like many other professional healthcare jobs, dental hygienists need to stay updated on current standards and practices. Sometimes you can take such continuing education courses online, or you can often find opportunities at nearby universities that have dental hygiene programs.

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The skills and training you will receive at an accredited dental hygiene program will help you to enter a rewarding career. Dental hygienists have the opportunity to be on the front line in helping patients obtain and maintain good oral care. The strong job growth in the field in the foreseeable future is another reason you might want to explore how to become a dental hygienist.