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How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental hygienist can be a rewarding, fulfilling career path. People rely on well-trained dental hygienists to keep their teeth and gums clean and healthy, making dental hygienists a particularly in-demand healthcare specialist.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists hold one of the fastest growing occupations, estimated to grow a whopping 36 percent by the year 2018. Moreover, dental hygienists enjoy excellent salaries with an average annual income in the $70,000 range.

This step-by-step guide will give you a brief overview of how to become a dental hygienist, from choosing the right school through getting your license and becoming employed.

Step 1. Be a strong candidate

To succeed as a dental hygienist, it helps to be the type of person who enjoys working closely with people in a healthcare environment. Dental hygienists perform job duties that include:

  • Cleaning tarter, plague and stains from patients’ teeth
  • Instructing patients in proper dental hygiene habits
  • Administering cavity-prevention treatments
  • Treating periodontal diseases
  • Taking x-rays of patients’ teeth
  • Administering diagnostic tests for the dentist’s evaluation

In some states, dental hygienists may also administer anesthetic as well as place temporary fillings in patients’ teeth.

To fulfill these roles, a dental hygienist must have manual dexterity to work with sensitive dental instruments and to operate the rotary and suction-powered hand tools dental hygienists use. Additionally, excellent people skills and communication skills are important for nearly constant, close patient interaction.

Step 2. Find an accredited dental hygienist training program

Finding a good program should not prove too difficult, as there are many options available, from accredited degree programs to certificate programs, and even online dental hygienist schools that offer the same education with learn-from-home flexibility.

A few things to look for in a good school are:

  • Location – It makes things a lot easier if your school is close to your home or work. Remember, online schools are also an option if you do not live close to any dental hygienist schools.
  • Accreditation – Licensing requires graduating from a program accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation. So before enrolling, confirm with your school that they are accredited.
  • Career Resources – Many programs offer career placement assistance after graduation, such as connections to recruiting firms, resume and cover letter assistance, or interviewing help. Ask a school representative what kinds of career assistance they offer.
  • Online Access – Some schools offer an online learning extension for students who can attend a classroom, but not for every class. Ask representatives if any online learning resources are available for convenient outside-of-the-classroom learning.

Step 3. Graduate from dental hygienist school

Successful completion of an accredited dental hygienist program is the usual requirement for entering this career field and becoming licensed. In order to be accepted into such a program, one must have a high school diploma and submit college entrance test scores to the school.

Most dental hygienist programs offer associate’s degrees or certificates upon successful completion of their programs. However, some programs offer bachelor’s and even master’s degrees.

Some of the course subjects studied in a dental hygienist program include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Nutrition
  • Histology
  • Pathology
  • Chemistry
  • Periodontology
  • Radiography
  • Dental hygiene
  • Anatomy
  • Microbiology

These subjects are taught by a combination of classroom, laboratory, and hands-on clinical settings to enhance students’ learning potential.

Step 4. Become Licensed

Licensing for dental hygienists is mandatory in most states, and a US license is necessary to practice in the US. To become licensed, dental hygienists must:

  • Graduate from a formal dental hygienist training program (see step 3 above)
  • Pass a national dental hygienist board examination
  • Pass the state-level dental hygienist board examination for the state in which they wish to practice

Additional requirements include CPR certification, letters of recommendation from practicing dentists and from the dentistry board, and passage of an exam demonstrating knowledge of applicable state laws and regulations.

Step 5. Find a Job as a Dental Hygienist

Once you have met all of the requirements of becoming a dental hygienist, you are free to pursue employment by browsing dental hygienist job listings for openings in your area. Congratulations, you’re on your way to a new and exciting career!

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