The Scoop on Dental Hygienists
Dental Hygiene isn't just something you keep up with by brushing your teeth and flossing.
What in the World Does a Dental Hygienist Do Anyways?
Dental Hygienists clean your teeth when you go to the Dentist's office. In more technical terms, they "remove hard and soft deposits from teeth." I know, it sounds technical and important - that's because it is! Hygienists examine a patient's teeth before the Dentist comes to see them. They are also charged with taking X-Rays, administering fluoride treatments, making molds of patient's teeth, and assisting Dentists with more complex procedures like doing fillings.
If you worked in a Specialist's office, you might assist with periodontal therapy, root canals, implant surgeries, wisdom teeth removal and a host of other procedures done by a Dentist or Oral Surgeon. You'll need good manual dexterity for this work.
You will also be left with the patient after the Dentist is done, and you will be responsible for modeling good brushing and flossing, counseling patients on good dental care, and answering any questions the patient might have. Your people skills will be very important to keep the patients comfortable and calm in the scary dental chair.
What Kind of Training do I need (A.K.A. - Will I have to go to School?)
In order to work as a dental Hygienist, you need to have graduated High School and been accepted to a Dental Hygiene School. There are 286 of these programs in the U.S., so you should be able to find one that will suit your needs and your schedule. The program usually lasts two years, when, at the end, you are granted an Associate's Degree in Dental Hygiene.
After getting your Degree, you must be licensed by the State Dental Board to work as a Dental Hygienist. You will have to pass a written test and pass a "skills" exam in order to get your license, but, once you do, it's smooth sailing to the job market.
How Do I get One of These Jobs Anyways?
Most Dentists work in private practices and that means that most Hygienists work in private practices assisting Dentists. 50,000 new jobs in this field are expected to be created by 2016. It should be simple to find a job working for a Dentist.
Many Dental Hygienists (about half) work part-time, so you can certainly find something to fit your family life and your social life. The majority of Hygienists can hold down this well-paying job until retirement, but if you are looking to go to Dental School, working with a Dentist is also great training.
Advancement in this job usually requires an advanced degree, for example, to teach Dental Hygiene at a College or get into assisting Dentists and Doctors in medical research (which might require a science degree). Either way, you don't have to work 40 hours a week (many people work a couple days in more than one Dentist's office), and you can get into teaching if you want. This is the ultimately flexible job.