A female dental hygienist in the dental office

Is A Dental Hygienist Career Right For Me?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Can you believe about 221,000 dental hygienists are working in the United States today? Well, it's true. You might be wondering, "Should I be a dental hygienist?" And the answer might be "yes."

We're here to help you understand what a dental hygienist is, what duties a dental hygienist covers, and what's involved in becoming a dental hygienist. That way, you can feel confident in figuring out if a dental hygiene career is for you.

What Is A Dental Hygienist?

A registered dental hygienist (RDH) plays a critical role in providing preventive treatment and care to improve oral health needs and dental care. They provide educational, clinical, and therapeutic services to people regarding their dental care and oral hygiene. Dental hygienists often practice in private dental offices and work alongside a dentist and/or dental specialist.

What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?

Each state has its own regulations regarding the responsibilities of dental hygienists, and so the range of services they perform vary. In addition to administering oral hygiene care to patients, they also:

  • Assess oral health conditions. Dental hygienists review people's medical history, administer oral cancer screenings, and even take blood pressure and pulse.
  • Perform dental x-rays. Hygienists utilize digital radiography to take dental x-rays, which reduces exposure to dental radiation.
  • Remove plaque and tartar, polish teeth, and apply fluoride to strengthen the teeth. Hygienists use ultrasonic devices and instruments to scale and remove plaque and tartar at and below the gumline. They also polish the teeth and provide fluoride to strengthen the enamel of teeth.
  • Offer oral hygiene education. They teach you oral hygiene skills like how to brush your teeth, floss, clean your tongue, and eat nutritiously for better oral health.
  • Take dental impressions. Dental hygienists create models of teeth so that dentists can evaluate the treatment needs of their patients.
  • Provide other advanced care: In most states, they provide advanced care such as giving fluoride treatment, sealants, or administering topical anesthesia.

How Do You Become A Dental Hygienist?

Becoming a dental hygienist requires going to school, clinical training with patients, and passing exams.

School - Dental hygienist programs are offered at community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools, and universities. Most community college programs take at least two years to complete and result in an associate degree. University-based dental hygiene programs generally require at least two more years of study. They tend to result in a baccalaureate or master's degree, which may be needed for a career in teaching, public health, and management roles in the industry.

Dental hygiene education programs also require clinical education, which involves supervised patient care.

Licensure -The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the sole agency approved by the USDE to accredit dental hygiene education programs. Each school must undergo a specific process to train its students in performing preventative dental care safely properly. Believe it or not, there are several hundred schools in the U.S. that meet these standards!

Dental hygienists are licensed by the state, like teachers. Almost all states require that dental hygienists graduate from a Commission on Dental Education-accredited education program. Most states also require a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. They also require passing the state-authorized licensure examination, which tests clinical dental hygiene skills and dental hygiene knowledge.

Once you receive a license, you can start adding "RDH" after your name. These three letters show that you're officially a Registered Dental Hygienist.

So, now you know what it takes to become a dental hygienist. It's an essential job that helps people maintain their oral care and provide good dental hygiene services for optimal oral health. Even though a dental hygienist's duties vary depending on the state, they generally take care of several procedures to ensure your teeth are well taken care of, including X-rays, plaque and tartar removal, and other advanced care. Becoming a dental hygienist requires schooling, training, and passing exams. So if you're interested in helping people with their dental hygiene, start looking into school options today. There are smiles out there waiting for your knowledge, expertise, and wisdom.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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