Dental hygienists are specially trained healthcare workers. They acquire various dental care techniques, concepts, skills, etc. and are licensed and registered with a recognized regulatory body at their base.

In its basic form, they practice preventive procedures for oral health, and after graduation from accredited higher institutions around the world, they gain licenses to practice.

Licensed dental hygienists provide educational, or research services, clinical or therapeutic services, and even administrative services.

These services all revolve around the promotion of the complete well-being of an individual through standard oral health practices.

HOW DOES ONE BECOME A DENTAL HYGIENIST?

Becoming a dental hygienist entails complex processes that require hard work and dedication, should you decide to follow this career path.

You could opt for a bachelor’s degree program at a university or college, which usually takes about four years to complete or spend two years doing an associate degree program in dental hygiene to pave the way for you in the dentistry health sector.

Whatever your choice may be, you should do proper research and get advice and guidance before choosing a career as a dental hygienist.

Also, whatever school or program you choose has to be an accredited one that offers a dental program.

This is because when you attend a school that is not accredited, it could hurt your chances for future employment, and thus, waste your time.

These strict rules and standards ensure that only qualified dentists are licensed.

After your training and education at an accredited higher education institution, you will not be allowed to practice your profession yet, except you obtain your license.

Licensure regulations differ in states and countries as every area has different terms and agreements regulating licensing.

Therefore you need to secure a license before you become a practicing dental hygienist.

Also, you may need to get a new license to practice with if you move to another state.

Furthermore, you can visit your state government offices to get more information about licensing and registration.

CAREER OPPORTUNITIES AND WHAT THEY DO

Dental hygienists have various career paths after graduation.

As a dental hygienist, you enjoy a wide range of career opportunities, from clinical environments to offices and even a lecture hall.

You can work in private dental practice, nursing homes, or government organizations.

Apart from clinical practice, your services could also be required in education, public health, research, and government establishments.

Source: rdhmag.com

Figure 1: Dental Hygienists at a corporate and private practice

Source: rdhmag.com

However, you can also combine different professional positions at the same time for a variety of reasons.

For instance, as a dental hygienist, you can go the academic route while still practicing in a clinic. Additionally, you can also work as a professional consultant after gaining enough experience.

Here’s a look at what is generally involved in different career settings:

Clinical Practice

In the clinical setting, for dental hygienist, you will provide procedures such as the proper and complete removal of plaque and stains from the teeth.

Also, you perform dental X-ray exposure, and processing, apply agents that prevent cavities like pit and fissure covers, or fluorides. Additionally, you will be in charge of administering antimicrobial agents.

But in some settings, you are responsible for the administration of anesthetics and nitrides; In this case, you will work on temporary fillings or dressings, removing sutures while providing general periodontal therapy.

Also, you can in the laboratory, in addition to their duties, providing diagnostic tests for other health care professionals to interpret.

Education

In the educational sector, you can be employed as a dental hygienist to assist in educating and training students aspiring to join the dental profession.

You can take dental health sensitization lectures with the students via awareness programs or even guide them in medical laboratory sessions.

Sales and Marketing

As a dental hygienist, you can find yourself in the business and corporate world, handling sales and marketing.

While it could be related to oral health products, you may choose to veer away from their field too.

Also, organizations that provide customer service support and rely on direct meetings with clients can enlist your help.

Your skills as a dental hygienist are sometimes outsourced to give periodic checks on the dental health of the company’s staff.

You can also handle free checks for companies to make sales or market great meal health products.

Added to your training and professional qualification, your career path as a dental hygienist in business will require additional attributes like patience, marketing skills, among others, to push sales and drive huge profits.

Government Agencies

Asides from hospitals or schools owned by the government, you can work in government agencies and parastatals related to public service in the field of oral health.

Some government offices and agencies require a team of health professionals to be on board at all times, and this can include dental hygienists.

Administration

You can find dental hygienists in offices of dental or non-dental establishments.

They could be assistants of dentists in the dental practice with the job of keeping the books, sorting files, receiving patients, and performing routine checks too.

Research

The dental hygienist, as a trained health worker can also work with other health care professionals in the development and provision of care for the public.

You can do this through research and publishing your findings, organizing public outreaches and seminars to increase awareness on upcoming issues, and also recommended practices and lifestyle.

By working as an administrator or an assistant, with the training and education acquired, you are well equipped to carry out roles in dental and clinical settings, and can handle various dental processes with or without the supervision or guidance of a dentist.

Dental hygienists with a sound imagination, creative mindset, and observation skills can work in the research department.

Also, if you have a genuine passion for scientific investigations, literature, and documentation, you can significantly assist in research, designing, and tests of experiments, documenting, and also reporting results for scientific publications.

Source: Oneloosetooth

Figure 2: Data for average earnings of full time and part-time dental hygienists

Source: Oneloosetooth

WHAT SKILLS/VALUES DO ONE NEED TO POSSESS TO WORK AS A DENTAL HYGIENIST

Having the educational qualifications and license is all you need to work as a dental hygienist. But, for you to perform well in this field, you must possess all or most of these skills.

Whether you work in a government office, a dentist’s office, or as a budding entrepreneur, these skills will add to the quality of your work.

Good Communication Skills

From oral communication, verbal to non-verbal interaction, to translations even on paper, you have a lot to do as a dental hygienist. Because without proper communication skills, you won’t be able to put your patients at ease.

Treating patients, whether young or old, requires you to talk to them and get to know their challenges, symptoms, and medical history.

This also extensively involves you informing them of how you plan to solve their problems, the processes you might want to use, and how long it might take.

You will need to present yourself simply so that they can flow along with you.

Great Learning Ability

Without the willingness to learn, how does someone even make it out of dental school in the first place?

As a professional dental hygienist, you aimed at; you should embrace learning at every opportunity, as this helps you improve more even after you have gotten your license, which you have to renew from time to time.

Also, endeavor to keep yourself updated with advancement and current happening in the dental world so that you will not feel left out.

Compassion

The job of a dental hygienist, like many other professions in the healthcare sector, significantly requires those involved to be very compassionate.

Without this, you are likely to lose flair for the job very easily, giving up years of your hard work and a great job.

Without compassion, you may find it hard to succeed in the field of dental care and the entire healthcare sector at large.

Considering what you will encounter as a dental hygienist, you will need a lot of patience and compassion to execute your duties successfully and excel in this profession.

Attention to details

Considering how important it is to relate what you hear to the dentist or put it down for your patient’s treatment, you cannot afford to send wrong information about your patient.

Because any single error or wrong diagnosis in the health sector can easily lead to the patient’s death.

In fact, you can risk getting your license revoked in this situation. This is why, as a dental hygienist, you will need to be more observing and attentive, especially to the patients.

Manual Dexterity

Working as a dental hygienist involves the constant use of the limbs, especially the hands.

You will need to handle several tools of different sizes in examining or executing various treatments in the mouths of individuals.

And should you naturally not possess this skill, I recommend that you get the required training to help you get used to handling these tools.

Basic Administrative Skills

As a dental hygienist, you may find yourself in an office environment.

Handling files, sorting out information on a computer system or paper are a few of the tasks you could find yourself doing.

In addition to your primary job duties, you will need to be conversant with how to handle records, documentation, and do everything required in an office environment.

People Skills

Knowing fully well that dental hygienist gets to meet different kinds of people on an interacting basis.

Interacting and attending to them in a very close setting, a person lacking great people skills might suffer some losses in this field.

Great people skills will help you as a dental hygienist to coordinate yourself when you meet with your clients and also manage them appropriately.

Time Management

Time management is an essential skill in every profession, and the dental hygienists are not an exception to this.

At times, you may be overwhelmed because you have a load of tasks to get done, and in the process, get yourself destabilized without achieving anything.

Your ability to plan your time and every task in order of priority will help you be more productive.

Also, I advise that you create time to take strategic naps to improve your efficiency, ease stress and brain function.

Source: Dentistryiq.com

Figure 3: Hours worked by dental hygienists of different age grades

Source: Dentistryiq.com

Endurance

Though it is not a race, working as a dental hygienist indeed requires a sound mind that can endure various problems and a sound body that can withstand physical stress.

Endurance, both physically and mentally, is much needed for you to make it in the world of oral health as a dental hygienist.

Marketing

In case you have the plan to get yourself involve in the business world as a dental hygienist, you will need sales and marketing skills to scale through profitably and successfully.

In this regard, the ability to develop good sales strategies processes is vital.

ARE THERE BENEFITS TO BECOMING A DENTAL HYGIENIST?

Dental hygiene, as an arm of dentistry, offers many rewards, like many other health professions. These include:

  • Self-satisfaction: The job can be very fulfilling as it involves regularly working with people whose smiles and relief are a testament to a job well done. This is especially true if you enjoy helping people out. In most cases, you have to help people with their oral health, preventing decay or other diseases from developing and stopping progressive ones in their tracks. This can be a delightful experience as such a service can make you very satisfied.
  • Respect: Well, this is true! There is a lot of prestige tied to medical practitioners worldwide. Now, take 5 mins and think about yourself as a highly-rated dental hygienist or you have a license to operate your own dental care. You will be surprised at the respect that will be accord to you in the dentist industry from clients and even your colleagues. Dental professionals are well respected everywhere in the world and dental hygienists are no exception.
  • Variety: Dental hygienists enjoy the varied application of their personal and acquired skills. This includes helping individuals, educate children in schools, or assisting in the marketing and sales of great products. This means that the job affords you a certain level of excitement with the activities you perform, especially when working more than one job.
  • Creativity: With your regular interaction with different people, you can express your creativity in managing people, and having intellectual discussions with your colleagues. With diversity being a significant factor when it comes to dealing with people, it takes great talent to switch up and handle everyone without losing it.
  • Flexibility: The flexibility of employment options is another reason many take up this profession. With part-time or full-time job offers, you can structure yourself as a dental hygienist with a good work-life balance. You can also, by this opportunity provided, expand your horizons by working in different settings or combining different jobs.
  • Income: It is no news that dentistry is recognized as one of the highest paying careers in the world today. You can earn an average of $50,000 annually in most parts of the world as a dental hygienist. This well-paying profession is definitely among the highly sought after professions in the healthcare service delivery field.
Source: money.cnn.com

Figure 4: Comparison between dental hygienist salaries and other health professional jobs

Source: money.cnn.com

Security

Dental hygienists are very much sought after as their services are valuable and in high demand.

You can boast of employment opportunities being available for a long term career in the future.

This high demand for dental hygienists can be attributed to the fact that oral diseases are easily prevented, thanks to preventive dentistry, which is sufficiently provided by professionals like dental hygienists.

They are also much sought after by dentists due to their extensive training in dental processes.

This, in general, provides job security with extra time channeled into advancing the profession and health.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Generally, you can see that it is not an entirely easy feat attending dental school and becoming a dental hygienist, but it is a great profession.

With the everyday opportunity to help people of different age groups, you are guaranteed a great experience.

Many people have been in the field for many years and still love what they do. You can also make someone’s smile much better just by choosing to become one.

Dental Hygienist – Job Description and Career Information

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