Health careers are generally considered to be more stable jobs, and the dental hygienist profession is widely accepted to be one of the most recession-proof professions in America. If you're interested in becoming a respected health professional with a recession-proof career, becoming a dental hygienist could be one of the best decisions you'll make.
Dental hygienists are one of the fastest growing occupations in the US. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hygienist earned $66,570 annually in 2008, and the field will enjoy a job growth of 36% by the year 2018. Members of the profession often work beside dentists in dental offices, and some have their own dental hygiene practices. In addition, many work on a part-time or flexible schedule basis. Clearly, the profession offers stability, higher than average income and flexibility.
The primary responsibility of a dental hygienist is to ensure the hygiene of patients' teeth and gums by performing a wide variety of procedures, as well as educating them about teeth and gum hygiene and providing other preventive dental care. The procedures performed by a dental hygienist may include:
<li>Cleaning plaque, stains, tartar and other residue buildup on teeth using rotary and ultrasonic devices</li>
<li>Diagnose dental health problems using radiological (x-ray) equipment and refer them to dentists for further treatment if necessary,</li>
<li>Apply cavity-preventing treatments such as fluorides and sealants,</li>
<li>Educate patients on various aspects of dental health and hygiene using charts, photos and models.</li>
Now that we've covered the basic job responsibilities of a dental hygienist, it's time to talk about the educational requirements and qualifications necessary to become one. In many states, entering the profession requires a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school (In addition, some states such as Florida may allow foreign-trained dentists to work as hygienists. This is an appealing career option for foreign-trained dentists, who otherwise can not obtain jobs as dentists in the US due to ADA regulations and restrictions on foreign-trained dentists.) Such training programs usually take two years to complete, and entrance requirements usually include a high school diploma and college entrance test scores. Specific entrance requirements vary highly between programs, and we recommend visiting the Web sites of various schools for more information.
As of 2010, there were 313 accredited entry-level dental hygiene education programs in the US. Most of these programs require successful completion of classes on general health-related science subjects such as anatomy, chemistry, histology, microbiology and nutrition; as well as classes specializing on dental health subjects such as periodontology (study of gum diseases), clinical dental hygiene, dental materials and dental radiology.
After successful completion of an accredited dental hygienist education program, dental hygienists must be licensed by the state where they would like to practice. Almost all US states require candidates to graduate from an accredited school and pass both a written and clinical examination. The written examination is administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations of ADA (American Dental Association).
The clinical examinations are usually administered by regional and state agencies, and some states might require additional written examinations as well. You can find more information on the national and state examinations on our certification information pages.