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Dental Hygienist: Career Information

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female dental assistant working on boy
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Job Description:

When an individual goes for a dental checkup, he or she is likely to spend most of the appointment with the dental hygienist. Along with the dentist, this licensed healthcare professional provides preventative oral care. Dental hygienists clean patients' teeth and examine them for signs of disease and damage. They teach patients how to maintain good oral health. Their scope of practice—what services they are legally allowed to deliver—differs according to the rules of the state in which they are licensed.

Employment Facts:

Dental hygienists held about 182,000 jobs in 2010. They generally work in dentists' offices under their supervision. Most work part-time with only about only 38% working full time. Some work in multiple dental practices.

Educational Requirements:

To work as a dental hygienist one must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school with either an associate degree (most common), a certificate, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. You can search for accredited programs in the United States or Canada on the American Dental Association website.

Why Do You Need to Know About Educational Requirements?

Other Requirements:

A dental hygienist, after graduating from an accredited program, must get a license from the dental board in the state in which he or she wants to practice. In order to get licensed, one must pass a written exam and a clinical exam. Individual state dental boards should be consulted to learn about specific requirements. The American Dental Association website features a directory of state dental boards.

People who possess certain characteristics are better suited for this occupation than are others. These qualities include compassion, manual dexterity and good interpersonal skills. One must also be detail oriented and have the stamina necessary to spend a lot of time bending over while treating patients.

Job Outlook:

The future for dental hygienists looks bright. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in this field will grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. It is projected, as a matter of fact, to grow faster than other occupations that, like it, require post-secondary training or an associate degree (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Why Do You Need to Know About Job Outlook?

Earnings:

Dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $69,280 and median hourly wages of $33.31 in 2011.

Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much dental hygienists currently earn in your city.

A Day in a Dental Hygienist's Life:

On a typical day a dental hygienist may:

  • perform dental cleanings to remove hard and soft deposits on teeth
  • take dental x-rays
  • develop x-rays
  • keep patients' records in order to track care and treatment
  • teach patients how to take care of their teeth so that they can maintain good oral health
  • prepare diagnostic tests that dentists will administer
  • assist the dentist by working chair-side
  • apply sealants and fluoride to patients' teeth

If the state in which one practices allows, a dental hygienist may:

  • help prepare patients for dental procedures or surgery by administering anesthetics
  • remove sutures
  • apply filling materials, temporary fillings, and periodontal dressings
  • smooth and polish metal restorations

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Dental Hygienists on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm (visited August 6, 2012)
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Dental Hygienists, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/29-2021.00 (visited August 6, 2012).

Should You Become a Dental Hygienist? Take a Quiz to Find Out.

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