How To Become a Dental Hygienist

If you work well with people, easily develop proficiency with technical equipment and have the physical dexterity to use dental tools to clean teeth, you might be wondering how to become a dental hygienist. Dentistry is the healthcare field that focuses on oral health, or the health of patients’ mouths, including their teeth and gums. Dental hygienists clean teeth and perform certain procedures, such as fluoride applications, when patients visit their dentists.

Typically, dental hygienists see patients before they see a dentist, the dental professional who is the equivalent of a doctor in the medical field. Dental hygienists use hand and powered tools to scrape and clean stains, plaque and tartar from the enamel of teeth for health and cosmetic reasons. They polish teeth to improve the appearance of the smile. Dental hygienists are typically the professionals who perform X-ray imaging. In both adult and child patients, they may administer applications of fluoride and sealants to teeth for the purpose of preventing cavities and other oral health problems. Dental hygienists are trained to identify symptoms of periodontal and oral diseases, such as gingivitis.

Dental hygienists also serve as educators for their dental patients. They teach children, and remind adults, of the importance of practicing proper oral hygiene and the correct way to brush teeth and floss. They advise patients on nutrition and diet. Dental hygienists provide information on the right types of toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to use, particularly for patients who have concerns such as gum sensitivity or disease. During a cleaning appointment, dental hygienists often talk to patients to make them feel more comfortable.

To begin preparing for a career in dental hygiene, candidates should pursue a formal education from an accredited college program. Aspiring dental hygienists must earn at least an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, although some schools offer bachelor’s- or master’s-level programs as well. Some employers may consider candidates who have earned only a certificate in dental hygiene. Coursework in a dental hygiene college program will include dental-specific subjects such as periodontology as well as more general subjects of study, like anatomy, physiology and nutrition. During their educational careers, aspiring dental hygienists will learn in classrooms, laboratories and clinics. Upon completing their education, dental hygienists must obtain a license in the state in which they intend to work.

Full-time dental hygienists earn a median salary of $68,250 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Job opportunities for dental hygienists are growing rapidly. The BLS anticipates a 38 percent increase in employment opportunities for these dental professionals, while the amount of job growth expected across all occupations is only 14 percent. If you work well with your hands, have the compassion and friendly personality to interact with patients and have the technical skill to operate X-ray machines and dental equipment, knowing how to become a dental hygienist could be your first step toward a rewarding new career in a thriving field of healthcare.

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