Got teeth? Well, I certainly hope so! You also may have an interest in helping other people keep their teeth, something that you can do by becoming a dentist or a hygienist. If your interest is with the latter position, then you will be joining a fast-growing profession that has been forecast to grow by 38 percent by 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Read on and we will look at what it takes to become a dental hygienist, including education, job duties, and salary considerations.
A dental hygienist is an oral care professional tasked with cleaning and examining oral areas as well as the head and neck for signs of oral disease. Hygienists work closely with a dentist to educate patients about oral hygiene, administer x-rays and to apply fluorides or other sealants. Hygienists may work for one dentist or be part of a dental practice, reporting to one or more dentists and working with other hygienists, receptionists, clerks and an office manager.
Specifically, a dental hygienist inspects a patient's mouth, cleans teeth and removes tartar deposits from between teeth and under the gumline. This professional uses dental instruments to examine gums and teeth, looking for signs of disease. The hygienist will take and develop x-rays, chart the patient's oral history and assist the dentist with a treatment plan. Hygienists clean and sterilize equipment, apply cavity preventing and whitening agents, and examine patients for signs of oral cancer.
The median pay for dental hygienists was $68,250 per year as of 2010 according to the BLS. That salary translates to $32.81 per hour. Those at the bottom rung of this profession earned less than $45,000 annually while those in the top 10 percent earned more than $93,820 per year. Most hygienists, however, work part-time with just 38 percent employed full time.
Oral care plays a significant part in a person's general health. The field is growing rapidly with the BLS forecasting one of the fastest growth rates through 2020. That 38 percent rate is about three times the rate of all jobs, demonstrating that the number of job opportunities for prospective hygienists will be plentiful with excellent pay possibilities. Employment is available in a private practice, a medical center, a university or other business.
Two-thirds of all dental hygienists practicing today have an associate degree and nearly one-third have a bachelor's degree. A small group, numbering two percent, have a doctoral or a professional degree.
Today's college students will pursue their education in health science. Those pursuing a four-year degree will attend a college or a university, and take courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, and mathematics. Students will also be required to complete core courses in English composition, history, social science, communication and fine arts. Additional courses include dental hygiene, periodontics, nutrition, cardiology, oral pathology, labs and clinical. Students will work closely with a licensed dentist and will be required to pursue state licensing after completing their education before being eligible to seek employment.
Dental hygienist students must work well with a team and follow a dentist's instructions. Excellent personal and communication skills, a comprehensive understanding of oral health, and the skills to clean teeth, take x-rays and to apply sealants are essential for this position. Hygienists with a four-year degree may have more options available to them than a student with a two-year degree. Such professionals can seek employment as an orthodontic assistant, an oral surgery assistant or may assist a prosthodontist.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dental Hygienists
ONet Online: Summary Report for Dental Hygienists
World Dental: The Duties of a Dental Hygienist
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