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Dental Hygienist Careers

Working in a health science career can be rewarding because you get to work directly with patients and help improve their lives.

Some medical students worry about the high-stress nature of health science careers. If you work as a paramedic, for example, you must make important life or death decisions. Even some technicians handle medical equipment that cause serious health issues if it is improperly administered. If you do not do well with on the fly decision making or jobs with severe consequences but still want to help patients, working as a dental hygienist may be a good choice.

A dental hygienist helps patients before they see the dentist. Common tasks of the dental hygienist include cleaning teeth and conducting x-ray exams. Dental hygienists are responsible for performing preventative dental care, like looking for cavities.

Dental hygienists do not require as much training as other health science careers. This means students pay less overall in certification. Dental hygienists are typically in high demand no matter where they are applying. More information about a career as a dental hygienist is covered below.

What is a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists are most commonly found in dental offices, but some positions are open in hospitals or clinics. Essentially, any type of medical specialist where dental tasks are performed needs a dental hygienist as well. The main responsibilities of a dental hygienist are taking care of dental cleanings and administering x-ray examinations. This includes performing the exam and developing x-rays. Dental hygienists are responsible for applying sealants and fluorides, which help prevent gingivitis and other dental issues.

Dental hygienists often work with younger patients to teach proper dental care, such as showing proper flossing techniques and giving advice on gum protection. Dental hygienists commonly have a few administrative tasks, such as documenting patient care.

While they do not have as many tasks as a full dentist, dental hygienists still handle multiple types of equipment. Dental hygienists commonly use hand and ultrasonic tools, but some use lasers for specific procedures. Cleaning teeth requires air-polishing devices. Dental hygienists must know how to properly take x-rays as part of their job.

In most offices, dental hygienists work under the direct supervision of a dentist. Not all tasks must be overseen. In most situations, a dental hygienist is not allowed to diagnose a patient, but some states where allow this.

How do I become a dental hygienist?

The exact requirements to become a dental hygienist change depending on the state in which you apply for this position. A few similarities exist no matter where you apply. All dental hygienists must have at least some sort of license or certification.

In addition, dental hygienists generally need an associate degree in dental hygiene. This is a relatively common course offered at most community colleges and technical universities. Some of the subjects dental hygienists study during their classes are nutrition, anatomy and periodontics. Some courses cover patient management and pathology. Physiology and radiography are covered as well.

Once you have the necessary degrees, you can test for any additional registrations or certifications. In most states, you must pass a CPR course before you can work in any health science career. Contact the Board of Dental Examiners in your state to learn more about the exact requirements to become a dental hygienist.

How much can I make as a dental hygienist?

Another one of the reasons dental hygienist is a popular health science career is the initial salary. According to 2021 statistics from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, most dental hygienists earn close to $77,810 annually. The entry-level wage varies depending on the state, but it is rare for dental hygienists to make less than $60,000 annually.

Not only can dental hygienists make good money, but they often have many health benefits as well. Health science careers commonly come up with the best insurance possible since the employees are working directly in a health care position. Dental hygienists often have paid sick days and generous retirement contributions.

Dental hygienists commonly work in part-time positions. It is not uncommon though for a dental hygienist to work in multiple offices, effectively working the same hours as a full-time employee. Working part-time often leads to fewer benefits, so make sure you understand exactly what is available when you apply for a job.

Is there a demand for dental hygienists?

Dental hygienists are usually always in high demand no matter where you are looking for work. Health science jobs are commonly sought after because it is an industry that is constantly advancing. Dental work is always necessary, and in recent years there has been more of a push for patients to regularly see their dentist.

Working in such a sought-after career field comes with advantages and disadvantages. One of the main advantages is you can find dental offices looking for hygienists, but this comes with the drawback of working in a competitive field. Since so many potential candidates exist, dental offices have a wider pool of candidates. If you do not have a standout resume, you may have a harder time negotiating your initial salary and benefits.

If you are looking for jobs, do not overlook rural areas. Many dental hygienists first apply in larger cities because more dental offices are available in these locations. Rural areas often have the most job openings because so many hygienists gravitate towards the larger offices in the city. Since job opportunities are available in most areas, do not settle with the first office you find. Look around and find a job where you have the most benefits available.

Can I advance my career as a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists may not have the same advancement opportunities as other health science careers, but some options are still available. In most cases, dental hygienists need additional certification or an advanced degree to move into a new position. In some situations, they use their work experience to waive this requirement. Dental hygienists often move into research or teaching careers, but some pivot into more administrative or engineering roles. These jobs relate to designing or selling new dental equipment.