Dentistry is one of the most lucrative and highly valued fields in the health industry. If you’re interested in working in a dental office and the oral care field, being a dental hygienist might be the right career path for you. These professionals perform routine but pivotal services for the oral health of patients. But what’s it like to be a dental hygienist? What is the average salary of a dental hygienist?
In this article, we’ve detailed what a typical day in the life of a dental hygienist looks like. We also go explain the necessary steps you’ll have to take if you’re interested in becoming one, as well a typical dental hygienist salary, depending on your level of experience. Let’s dive in.
What Is a Dental Hygienist?
A dental hygienist is a medical health professional who specializes in aiding dentists to treat diseases and health concerns of the teeth and the human mouth. Dental hygienists assess the health of patients and report back to dentists. They are to a dentist what nurses are to doctors. They perform routine check-ups, detect the presence of gum disease, take x-rays, clean teeth, and polish teeth. They also administer fluoride treatments and take relevant notes on their clients’ medical histories.
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They have completed a dental hygiene program and have the special skill of performing preventative treatments. They also have strong interpersonal skills to help nervous patients stay calm during their oral health assessments. They typically see patients more often than dentists do, and are the first step of patient care in most dental health care facilities.
What Does a Dental Hygienist Do On a Daily Basis?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 64.4 percent of adults visit the dentist regularly. With a majority of adults needing the services of dental hygienists, it means that their schedules are pretty packed, with lots to do for each patient.
- Oral Inspection. When a patient visits a dentist’s office, the first thing a dental hygienist does is conduct an oral exam to get an understanding of the condition of the patient’s teeth. The dental hygienist can spot the presence of tooth decay, gum disease, and other issues caused by poor dental care or development, the latter usually in children. Oral inspection can determine if a patient will simply need a cleaning or oral surgery.
- Dental X-Rays. This is a common dental practice. Routine x-rays are done to identify sources of pain or dental diseases, such as cavities, in the teeth. The x-ray machine scans the invisible areas of the teeth and produces a picture that informs the dentist of the appropriate dental care to be done. This assessment is done before starting on the treatment plan necessary for the identified problem.
- Teeth Scaling and Polishing. Patients can make a routine visit to the dentist just to have their teeth cleaned to eliminate signs of gum disease or prevent periodontal disease. Here, the dentist or dental hygienist will use tools to scale off any tartar from individual teeth before polishing them with a special paste to remove stains on the enamel. Regular cleanings are important for keeping your teeth healthy.
- Sealant Placement. Most times, the application of dental sealants is required in the treatment plan for a patient. A sealant is a very thin paste-like substance that is painted on the chewing surfaces of the molars for decay prevention. Sometimes, a solution is applied before to the teeth to make the surface is rough for a stronger bonding of the sealant with the teeth.
- Oral Cancer Screening. Checking for oral cancer is another important daily activity executed by dental hygienists. Cancer screenings are done at almost every checkup because early detection is essential. During the process, the patient’s tongue is held with gauze before checks are made for signs of cancer on the tongue and mouth.
How Can I Become a Dental Hygienist?
Becoming a dental hygienist isn’t too difficult, as long as you have the right academic habits. You’ll have to have at least an associate degree and pass a state licensing exam. With the right career resources, you can study for a career in dental hygiene at a wide range of schools. Below are the specific degrees, online classes, and certifications that you may need.
Dental Hygienist Degrees
The first step to getting qualified for this role and being prepared for your life as a dental hygienist is getting an associate’s degree. It can be obtained at a community college, through a dental school, or vocational school. It takes two years. In general, an associate’s degree is all a dental hygienist needs to earn licensing for general practice.
Dental Hygienist Online Courses
There are online courses and programs in dentistry that can prepare you for your career as a licensed dental hygienist. These will equip you with the skills required to administer dental care to patients and assist a dentist. One of the major programs is the Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene.
Dental Hygienist Certifications
Certifications can help you gain knowledge and experience through the direct tutelage of professional experts in the field. The certificates will also give you recognition and preference above other applicants for job placements. These certificates include Dental Assisting I, II, and III, Dental Medicine, and Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program (AEGD) among others.
How Can I Get a Job as a Dental Hygienist?
Becoming a dental hygienist can be a long process, considering some of the challenging classes and license exams you need to take. This is why we’ve broken the process into four concrete steps. Below is a step-by-step guide that you can follow to become a dental hygienist.
Steps to Finding a Job as a Dental Hygienist
- Obtain an Associate Degree
The first step you should take is to earn an Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene. This is the entry-level degree that is required for most dental hygiene professionals. It must be earned from an institution that is approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. You can obtain your associate degree at a community college, through a dental school, or vocational school. It takes two years to complete.
- Get Licensed
After obtaining your associate degree, you’ll need to complete the licensing requirements. While requirements vary from state to state, every state requires that hygienists be licensed before they begin employment. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be considered fully licensed and a registered dental hygienist. This will let you apply for job placements and practice dental hygiene.
- Obtain Further Training (Optional)
You can update your resume and start applying to jobs after getting licensed, but you should also consider obtaining additional training to advance your dental hygiene career. Obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree in Dental Hygiene or a related field can net you higher pay or more advanced positions.
- Update Your Resume and Find Employment
Having met the requirements to get a job as a dental hygienist, you can start applying for jobs in dentistry after creating and updating your resume with all the skills you’ve acquired along your journey, including your education and experience. You can even find employment in research or teaching if you have a bachelor’s degree.
What Is the Average Salary of a Dental Hygienist?
According to PayScale, the average dental hygienist earns around $61,496. This will vary according to your level of experience and place of employment. Below we’ve outlined the typical salary trajectory for dental hygienists.
Salary for an Entry-Level Dental Hygienist
According to PayScale, an entry-level dental hygienist earns an average salary of $59,185. They begin their career with basic duties such as removing tartar and plaque from the teeth of patients, applying sealant and fluoride, and assessing the oral health of patients while reporting their findings to the dentists they work under.
Salary for a Mid-Level Dental Hygienist
The average salary of a mid-level dental hygienist is $62,013. They work outside the dental team, often without the supervision of the dentist. Mid-level dental hygienists run patient diagnoses and coordinate dental services among other related duties.
Salary for a Senior-Level Dental Hygienist
A senior-level dental hygienist earns an average salary of $66,919. Their salary is higher than that of entry-level and mid-level positions due to the depth of their duties. Senior-level dental hygienists conduct initial screenings, assist dentists in handling complex tasks, and help identify fractured teeth, even when it’s invisible to the naked eye.
Job Outlook for a Dental Hygienist
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), open positions for dental hygienists are expected to grow by 11 percent by 2028, which is higher than most other careers. This is due to the growing world population and the aging baby boomer generation which will require more dental work as time goes on.
Should I Become a Dental Hygienist?
Yes, if you are looking to work in the dental health industry, this is a promising career to consider. Dentistry is a stable field in medicine due to it being a social service that is always in demand. Dentists and dental hygienists are well respected and highly sought after and their salary is competitive when compared to some other career options.
A Day in the Life of a Dental Hygienist FAQs
It’s easy as long as you have the right education. The job will be a lot harder on your first day compared to five years down the line. If you enjoy helping people, the job of a dental hygienist can be very fulfilling. Being able to work as a part of a team as well as getting to interact with new clients every day can make the job fun, too.
No, you can’t become a dental hygienist without a degree. An associate degree is the minimum qualification and takes two years to complete. Generally speaking, an associate degree is all a dental hygienist needs to earn licensing to be able to practice.
Yes, you can. You can register and study in an online program to start your career. In our post-COVID-19 world, online degrees are much more respected than they used to be. Make sure to look into which schools near you offer online degrees in dental hygiene.
It takes two to four years to become a dental hygienist. The associate degree takes two, and then it depends on how quickly you can be licensed and become registered. Getting additional degrees or certifications to be able to do research or teach will add to this time.
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