How To Become a Dental Hygienist

Brush your teeth and floss. Youve been told that phrase, Im sure. But now you want to say it to your patients? Good for you: A career as a dental hygienist is rewarding and well-paying. To help you, I want to provide information about how to become a dental hygienist.

We will look at how long it takes, job duties, salary, and outlook.

First off, let us set the record straight: A dental hygienist, which takes about 2 years of education, is not the same as a dental assistant.

A dental assistant works the administrative side, handling billing and secretarial work. A hygienist examines and cleans teeth and checks for issues with the gums.

Classes you need to take to become a dental hygienist

An associates degree in dental hygiene, which takes two years, is required to start practice.

High school students should focus on core courses, including biology, chemistry, and math.

If you have already graduated high school, you will need to
apply to dental hygienist programs.

These programs will feature general education courses in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, humanities, and social sciences.

The bulk of your education will be courses related to teeth and gums. Sample courses include the following:

Preventive Dental Hygiene Nutrition and Biochemistry Dental Radiology
Dental Anatomy Clinical Dental Hygiene Pharmacology
Head and Neck Anatomy Dental Hygiene Theory Periodontal Studies
Pre-Clinical Dental Hygiene General and Oral Pathology Dental Materials
Dental Histology Dental Embryology Research
Community Dental Health Ethics, Jurisprudence, and Practice Management Pain Management in Dental Hygiene Practice


Your classes will vary depending on your school, but these are a general overview. If you choose to complete a bachelors degree, you will study additional general education courses.

A bachelors degree, or even a masters degree, will prepare you for more responsibility. One of these degrees will prepare you for research or teaching students to become a dental hygienist. Of course, you may work in a clinical practice, as well.

Also, you will spend time in the classroom doing didactic coursework, but you will also spend time in clinical rotations. This is where you practice under supervision on patients.

After you finish your education, you will need to be licensed and pass an exam by the American Dental Associations Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. You will also need to check with your state to determine if it has specific licensing requirements, too.

Characteristics of a dental hygienist

Like all medical careers, you need to have compassion when you working with patients, especially those in pain or emotionally sensitive.

Because a hygienist works in close proximity to patients and dentists, it is important to have good interpersonal skills.

Physical stamina and dexterity are important, too. You will work in a small office room and have to bend over patients and use your hands all day.

Another good characteristic to have includes technical skills. X-ray machines and powered medical devices require technical ability to operate and maintain.

Job duties of a dental hygienist

  • Educate patients about good oral hygiene i.e., explain how to brush and floss
  • Examine patients teeth and gums
  • Clean teeth, removing tarter, stains, and plaque
  • Take and develop dental x-rays
  • Manage patients dental care
  • Check for tooth and gum related problems
  • Provide findings to dentist during check-up

Salary and job outlook

A dental hygienist occupation is one that pays well and is a medical career in high demand.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a hygienist position is expected to grow by 38 percent.

Consider that there are 181,800 currently employed in this occupation, and multiply that growth by 38 percent by 2020, the amount of people needed for this occupation is staggering. The projected amount is 68,500 more dental hygienists by 2020.

A few reasons demand may increase includes:

  • Technological advances in dental procedures, such as tests using saliva samples to detect early signs of oral cancer, encourage people to undergo preventative dental services;
  • Research and studies suggest that oral health contributes to overall health; and
  • The aging population will require increased attention of the dentists, hence, the routine preventative dental care, such as teeth cleaning, will be largely delegated to the dental hygienists.

This career pays well, too. The average median salary was $68,250, according to the BLS. Eighty percent earned between $45,000 and $93,820.

I hope this information has helped you and provided you with the information about how to become a dental hygienist.

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