A career as a dental hygienist is a popular choice, and employment prospects for the future are expected to be excellent. Most of us are aware that to care for our teeth we need to floss, brush and see a dental hygienist on a regular basis. Maintaining oral health can have a dramatic effect on overall health and dental hygienists have a large role to play in educating patients about preventative care and much more.
To become a dental hygienist, the first step is to enroll in an accredited dental hygiene program for formal education. The road from there can be arduous, involving academic studies, clinical experience, passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and then getting a state license to practice dental hygiene.
The scope of work and services dental hygienists are legally allowed to deliver vary according to the rules of the state in which they work. Many states are currently working on increasing the scope of work to help with the current crisis in oral health, especially in underserved populations. Dental hygienists are already allowed to work without a dentist’s assignment in a number of states.
Dental hygienists interact with many different people on a daily basis. Those who recognize the importance of oral health and love helping others will probably be passionate about the profession. They are likely to go ‘above and beyond’ when it comes to their patients. The role of the dental hygienist has evolved a great deal over the years. Many people do not understand its full scope. For those who would like to know more, here are some facts you probably don’t know about dental hygienists and the important role they play.
1. They are highly educated
To work as a dental hygienist, you must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school. Academic programs for dental hygienists are offered at technical colleges, community colleges, dental schools or universities. Most community college programs take at least two years, and graduates receive associate degrees. This associate degree allows them to take examinations to become licensed. University-based dental hygiene programs offer bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. These require more years of study. Those who want to go into research or teaching, clinical practice in schools or public health programs may need additional degrees.
The admission requirements for a program vary, depending on the dental hygiene school. High school subjects such as biology, psychology, chemistry, and mathematics are beneficial. Most programs prefer applicants to have completed at least a year of college. Some degree programs want applicants to complete two years of college before they enroll in a dental hygiene program.
The dental hygiene education programs offer clinical education. Students have supervised patient care experiences. Programs may also include courses in liberal arts, basic sciences, and clinical sciences. Once the dental hygiene program is completed, students may choose to do additional training in areas such as education, marketing, public health, basic sciences and business administration.
No matter what the degree level, the same board exams are taken to prove competency and gain a license to practice. Then there are the examinations specific to a geographic location with every state having its own exam. Only graduates of commission-accredited dental hygiene education programs are eligible for licenses in most states. Exams are both written and practical. Once they have received their licenses, dental hygienists are able to use “R.D.H” after their names. This signifies the state’s recognition that they are Registered Dental Hygienists.