A dental hygienist is a licensed dental professional who specializes in preventive oral health, typically focusing on techniques in oral hygiene. Local dental regulations determine the scope of practice of dental hygienists. In most jurisdictions, hygienists work for a dentist, and some are licensed to administer local anesthesia. Common procedures performed by hygienists include cleanings known as prophylaxis, scaling and root planing for patients with periodontal disease, taking of prescribed radiographs, dental sealants, administration of fluoride, and providing instructions for proper oral hygiene and care.
Dental hygienists have varying dental duties, depending on the state, but they all clean teeth and advise patients on proper dental care. An associate's degree is required to work in a dental office; a bachelor's degree or higher is required for work in schools or public health programs.
Step 1: Take Preparatory Courses
Are you wondering, 'How do I become a dental hygienist?' You can start preparing as early as ninth grade. High school students can get ready for their dental hygiene education by taking classes in math, biology and chemistry. Besides a high school diploma, some dental hygienist schools also want applicants to have test scores from college entrance exams. While some schools accept students directly from high school, others require at least one year of college-level studies before officially admitting students to the dental hygiene program.
Step 2: Choose an Accredited Program
Most states award dental hygiene licenses only to people who have completed an accredited dental hygiene program. The Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits dental hygiene programs under the auspices of the American Dental Association (www.ada.org). Most of these programs grant associate degrees, but certificates, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees are also available. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, private dental offices usually require the hygienists they employ to have at least a certificate or an associate's degree (www.bls.gov).
Step 3: Graduate from a Dental Hygiene Program
Accredited dental hygiene programs have courses on anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, pathology and nutrition. Dental hygiene candidates also study tissue structure (histology), gum diseases (periodontology), dental materials and clinical dental hygiene. This curriculum prepares graduates for the national licensing exam.
Step 4: Pass the Licensing Exam
Almost every state requires aspiring dental hygienists to pass both a written exam and a clinical examination before they can obtain a license to practice. The written exam is offered through the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. The clinical portion of the exam is conducted by local and regional state-appointed agencies.
Step 5: Consider an Advanced Degree for Career Development
Earning a bachelor's or master's degree in dental hygiene may give dental hygienists opportunities for advancement beyond working in a dentist's office. Graduate programs can prepare dental hygienists to work in public health, in school programs or in corporate settings. Dental hygienists with advanced degrees may also conduct research and teach.
Dental Hygienists clean your teeth when you go to the Dentist's office. In more technical terms, they "remove hard and soft deposits from teeth." I know, it sounds technical and important - that's because it is! Hygienists examine a patient's teeth before the Dentist comes to see them. They are also charged with taking X-Rays, administering fluoride treatments, making molds of patient's teeth, and assisting Dentists with more complex procedures like doing fillings.
If you worked in a Specialist's office, you might assist with periodontal therapy, root canals, implant surgeries, wisdom teeth removal and a host of other procedures done by a Dentist or Oral Surgeon. You'll need good manual dexterity for this work.
You will also be left with the patient after the Dentist is done, and you will be responsible for modeling good brushing and flossing, counseling patients on good dental care, and answering any questions the patient might have. Your people skills will be very important to keep the patients comfortable and calm in the scary dental chair.