How long does it take to be a dental hygienist? Dental Hygiene is a reputable profession, but it takes a long time to become a licensed dental hygiene professional. And this already lengthy process drags more because most people waste their time in between, given they are not mentally prepared.
Hence, it is better to plan the career trajectory. If you are currently thinking of entering this field in the future, keep on reading this guide.
What is a Dental Hygienist?
Dental hygienists are professionals who determine the patient’s oral health by diagnosing and treating dental disorders, like the dentist. They usually perform routine tasks like dental scaling, anesthesia, root planing, deep cleaning, taking X-rays, and administrating oral health. The majority of dental hygienists work in educational institutes, community hospitals, and high-risk societies after completing their training.
Do You Need Dental Hygienist Certification?
Yes, you need to have a dental hygienist certification from the National Board of Dentist Hygiene to practice in the field. According to the BLS, you must pass the state dental hygiene exam after completing a four-year training program. This is because it gives you the right knowledge and skill set to practice this profession, keeping the medical ethics and practices intact.
How Long Does It Take to Be a Dental Hygienist?
On average, becoming a professionally licensed dental hygienist takes at least two to four years. According to the BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics, a high-schooler takes up to three years to become a dental hygienist. For a basic level of understanding, you can advance as a state dental hygienist by taking a national exam used to distribute licenses to professionals.
That said, it depends on your education and expertise, not to mention your intention to work at a certain level. For instance, if you are trying to become a general dental hygienist, an accredited, licensed associate degree is more than enough, which usually takes four years. In comparison, researchers and specialists need to go through extra steps, which take three to four years to train.
Length of the Dental Hygienist Career Path: Step-by-Step Guide
Want to know what steps you need to take to pursue a career in dental hygiene? Here is a complete step-by-step guide for you to read.
High School Certificate
The first step to becoming a dental hygienist is to get a high-school certificate or equivalent. This is essential to apply for basic associate dental training. If you are already clear about becoming a dental specialist, it is best that you go for coursework in relevant sciences, including physiology, anatomy, or biology.
Accredited Dental Hygienist Training
The next stage is obtaining an associate degree, and for this, you need to target schools that offer dental training and are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Typically, it takes around two to four years to complete this degree and work as a general dental hygienist. During this degree, you will do coursework in physiology, anatomy, pathology, and immunology, along with the on-field job training under a licensed hygienist.
Completing a Bachelors
Though you can start working in the field after getting an associate degree, most students start their bachelor’s degree to advance in their careers and improve job opportunities. It typically takes two to four years to complete a bachelor’s in dental hygiene, with an internship and coursework.
Getting a National/ State License
After completing a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, you become eligible to take the national exam for a state license. This exam has two parts, organized by the American National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, which consists of almost 350 MCQ-based questions. Anyone with at least 75 marks gets the state license, making them a registered dental hygienist.
Working as a Dental Hygienist
Though after passing the exam, you are more than eligible to start working, most dental hygienists spend at least a year to improve their skills. At this point, you can target community dental clinics and schools before officially practicing as a specialist. Common practices you will learn during this experience include root planning, deep cleaning, dental care, and more.
Working as a Researcher
After this, most people turn to a specialist role in dental hygiene, but some prefer working as a researcher to work on the development of the technology and practices in the profession. For this, they opt for a Master’s program that typically takes a year or two, depending on the research length and completion. You can also advance your research skills by doing a Ph.D. but do consider that only a small portion of the workforce goes to this level.
Dental Hygienist Degrees
Your qualification as a dental hygienist determines your job and demonstrates your relevant skills in the profession. Here is a breakdown of the degrees you can get in this field.
The most common and first degree you get as a licensed dental hygienist is an associate. With this qualification, you can get a job and work in any dental office in your area. Most general dental hygienists have an associate degree.
An undergraduate or Bachelor is an upgrade from the Associate degree and is the first step to becoming a specialist dental hygienist in community clinics or most education institutional settings (like schools and colleges). With this qualification, professionals are expected to get better job opportunities with higher pay scales.
If you aim to become an educator in the field and want to train dental students, a master’s degree in Dental Hygiene is required. With a higher qualification, you can also target jobs like prevention specialist or dental specialist in a community health center. This degree also helps researchers get an insight into modern developments and techniques in the profession.
Dental Hygienist Professions
Now, you must be thinking about the potential career options with these qualifications, other than the obvious ones. Following are some alternate options you can pursue as a dental hygienist in the States.
Pediatric Dental Hygienist
Mostly, pediatric dental hygienists work in school settings with students and children. The main purpose of this job is to help kids maintain oral hygiene and adopt practices for better oral health.
Dental assistants are professionals who work under the supervision of dental specialists and perform day-to-day tasks, including office work, scheduling appointments, giving consultations, and more. They usually have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Registered Dental Hygiene Specialist
RDH or Registered Dental Hygienists are licensed professionals who work one-on-one with patients. They are specially trained to help patients maintain oral health. However, do consider that the criteria for working as an RDH varies from state to state.
Public Health Advocate
Public health advocates or officers use their dental hygiene knowledge and expertise to educate the public and make them aware of the right dental hygiene practices and the importance of oral health. Mostly, these professionals work in high-risk communities.
What do dental hygienists do?
Dental hygienists are responsible for diagnosing, evaluating, and treating dental disorders. Dental hygiene specialists offer services, including consultations, root planning, teeth scaling, X-rays, and screening patients for potential pains and diseases.
How long does it take to become a dental hygienist?
On average, it takes anywhere between two and four years to become a licensed dental hygienist.
How do I become a dental hygienist?
To qualify as a dental hygienist, you need a graduation degree with accredited training and a dental hygienist certification from the National Board of Dental Hygiene.
Do you see a dentist or hygienist first?
Typically, you see a dental hygienist booking a consultation with the dentist first. This is because they check your oral health and screen your profile to figure out your history.
I hope this guide has clarified which steps to take to pursue your career as a dental hygienist. Finally, I thank Mary Kate for her kind words and professional insights.
They were thoroughly helpful. She works as a dental assistant in LA and goes out of her way to help me gather relevant details.