Dental Hygienist

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Related roles: Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH), Hygienist

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Similar Titles

Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH), Hygienist

Job Description

Dental hygienists work with dentists in cleaning patients’ teeth, educating patients on good oral health and examine patients for oral diseases.

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Flexible work schedule (working part-time is an option)
  • Comfortable salary
  • Dental industry is stable and growing.
  • New technology makes it interesting.
  • Regular hours, no emergencies
  • Growth opportunity to be an entrepreneur: industry is changing and convenient care clinics are in demand which provide low cost oral healthcare to underserved communities.
The Inside Scoop
Day in the Life
  • Most offices schedule 8-10 patients a day for prophylaxis (cleaning). Most provide 30 minutes to 1 hour for cleaning, exam (periodontal examination, measurements of the gum and recession by instrument) and x-rays (usually taken by assistant).
  • Writes the charts for the day with complete overview of what was performed, reviewed, seen clinically or via x-ray, and next appointment recommendations.
  • Homecare is an important part of the appointment. To know what the patient routine is and how to add or to modify it for their betterment of oral health.
  • A valuable dental hygienist always sees each mouth differently and treats and educates patient based on their dental history, medical history, and family dental history (since it plays a major role to a patient’s condition).
Skills Needed on the Job
  • Manual dexterity: Ability to use hands with skill and coordination.
  • Good with details
  • Compassion
  • Ability to put patients at ease
  • Good communication skills

“This field requires persistence and care. People matter while they are in your chair as much as the procedure you are rendering; therefore, a clinician must be willing to read the personality of the patient, what keeps them comfortable, and body language. The dental field is all about personal care and compassion that comes from wanting to work with people of all kinds and to care for your patient, each one.  Communication will take a RDH far and most successful in this career path, proper ability to explain what is being taken place and using solid examples to have patient relate in other aspects is also key. To maintain a fulfilling career choice and composure in this field one should really work in a dental office early on to see the scope of the field first on, its limitation, and its weight on the body. Most don’t know that the hygienist is most likely the first to treat the NEW patient in the office, so much relies on how that first visit of treatment and personal care goes to have the patient return.” - Marjan Shafieyan, RDH

Organization Types
  • Dental Offices: Some dental offices might hire a dental hygienist for only 2-3 days so may have to get a job in multiple locations.
  • Convenient Care clinics: low-cost, quality preventative oral health care facilities run by dental hygienists.
Expectations/Sacrifices Necessary
  • Disgruntled patients: People just don’t like to go to the dentist.
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Sometimes hard to find a dentist that you can get along with.
  • You will be touching saliva and the inside of people’s mouths.
  • Industry changes (technology, places of employment) so you must be aware of where the industry is going, how it is changing, how you stay competitive
  • Might not be able to get a full-time job right off the bat. Might have to work part-time then find another part-time job. This is a career where you have to be proactive in finding a job and finding multiple jobs.
Current Industry Trends
  • The cosmetic dentistry industry (such as teeth whitening, veneers, braces and implants) is increasing due to new technology. The growth of these complex procedures provides an opportunity for dental hygienists to take over the more routine and preventive care formerly done by dentists.
  • Convenient Care Clinics: There has been a growing demand for low-cost, quality preventative oral health care and these are run by dental hygienists.
  • Due to medical system focusing more on prevention, there will be a push to improve oral health knowledge and training among family doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other health care workers. Thus, more opportunities for dental hygienists in education and in schools.
What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...
  • Liked going to the dentist.
  • Liked cleaning your teeth and understood why it was important.
  • Enjoyed science classes.
2016 Employment
207,900
2026 Projected Employment
248,900
Education Needed
  • Dental Hygienists need an associate’s in dental hygiene, which can be completed at either a four-year university, a community college program, or a vocational training institute
  • Some programs can be completed in as little as 16 months but can take up to three years
  • Programs should be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation 
  • Common courses include:
    • Cariology
    • Dental Anatomy
    • Dental Hygiene Practice 
    • Dental Radiology 
    • Head and Neck Anatomy
    • Medical Emergencies
    • Periodontology
    • Pharmacology

Many students go on to complete a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene, either before or after they start working. Some even finish a master’s. However, a bachelor’s and master’s are not generally needed for most Dental Hygienist jobs. They are for preparing students for teaching, research, or roles in school and community-based public health programs

Things to look for in a program
  • High percentage of graduates that passed the national board exam.
  • High percentage of graduates that passed the clinical licensing exam on the first try.
  • High percentage of students that found full-time employment within months of graduation.
  • Good network and alumni involvement to help students find internships and full-time employment
  • Respected faculty in the industry.
What to do in HS and college
  • In high school, stock up on classes such as biology, chemistry, and math. Check out college dental programs you are interested in, to see if they have any specific prerequisites 
  • Ask local dental clinics if you can set up an informational interview with a hygienist or dentist. See if you can find a mentor or maybe work as an assistant 
  • Don’t wait ‘til college to familiarize yourself with dental technology, terminology, and trends 
  • Stay up to date on dental health policies and preventative education practices 
  • Dental clinics treat a wide range of patients, so practice your social skills, and become familiar with other cultures so you can ensure good customer service and communications 
    • In particular, knowing Spanish can give you an advantage in many employment situations
  • Learn tips for calming nervous patients
Education Stats
  • 2.6% with HS Diploma
  • 56.5% with Associate’s
  • 29.9% with Bachelor’s
  • 2.1% with Master’s
  • 2.9% with Doctoral
Landing the Job
  • Apply for Dental Hygienist internships! Depending on the timing of when you finish your degree and get your license, you may be able to get a full-time job where you intern
  • Work hard and learn as much as you can during your intern experience and ask your supervisor if they can serve as a reference when you go to apply for jobs
  • Considering working temp jobs until you get a full-time offer
  • Look for jobs and internships on Indeed, Simply Hired, Glassdoor, or other job portals 
  • Be willing to relocate, if there are no openings in your area. Per BLS, the highest concentration of Dental Hygienist jobs are in Idaho, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and North Dakota
  • In college, ask teachers for tips on job seeking. Don’t forget to connect with the alumni network, too!  
  • If your school has a career center, get help with your Dental Hygienist resume and practice mock interviewing skills 
  • Review sample Dental Hygienist interview questions to prep ahead of time
  • Find and sign up with a local dental hygienist temp/staffing agency.
How to stay competitive and stay in the game
  • Keep up with the technology.
  • Read the trends, the health policies that are being introduced.
  • Continuous education: Be up to date with preventative education.
  • Network and find a mentor: Attend meetings and CE (continuing education) sessions in your area. Connect to ADHA in your local office.
Infographic

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Dental Hygienist Gladeographix

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Programs at Foothill

B.S. Dental Hygiene
A 2 Yr. Bachelor in Science degree program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

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