Monday, December 19, 2016

How to become a dental hygienist

dental hygienist working on a child
Dental hygiene is a well-paying career that offers flexibility, high projected growth and specialization, and the ability to challenge oneself in a fast-paced environment. Best of all, it's possible to become a dental hygienist with a three-year associate's degree, thus limiting the expense of higher education. Read on to learn more about this lucrative career path.

Working under the supervision of a licensed dentist, the hygienist performs oral health procedures for patients, including assessments, inspections, and cleanings. They also take X-rays and operate specialized lasers and other equipment to remove stains and repair teeth, as well as assist the dentist during surgical procedures.

There are currently more than 300 dental hygiene education programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, administered at community colleges, technical institutes, and universities. Most are associate degree programs, though bachelor's and master's programs are available for those interested in research, teaching, or clinical practice. In most states, attending a program at a school accredited by the Commission (part of the American Dental Association) is required for eligibility for state licensure.

Entrance requirements vary by program and by state, but most require prerequisite high school courses in biology, chemistry, and math. In some cases, prospective students are required to complete a year of college courses before applying for the dental hygiene program. Once enrolled, dental hygiene students undergo laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction in a range of disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography, pathology, medical ethics, head and neck anatomy, patient management, and periodontics.

Most states require dental hygienists to hold a license, those licensure requirements vary by jurisdiction. Typically, prospective hygienists must pass a state-administered exam with both clinical and written components and obtain CPR certification. Continuing medical education is required to maintain licensure.

Those who complete this career path will enjoy a median annual salary of $72,330, with projected industry growth of more than 19 percent by 2024. While many dental hygienists choose to work at private practices offices, job opportunities abound in a range of settings. For example, hygienists are employed at community clinics, hospitals, universities, prisons, nursing homes, and schools. Some go into public health, while others work for companies that sell oral health products and services.