There are two different paths you can take to become a dental hygienist, with one taking less time than the other. Experienced dental assistants may enroll in a bridge program that allows them to build on their prior education and experience to step up their dental career in less time. On the other hand, those who have no experience in the dental field can begin their dental hygiene training from the ground up and learn all the principles and techniques of the field. Continue reading to find information on the steps involved in becoming a dental hygienist, no matter which path you need to take.
Do Your Strengths Align with a Dental Hygiene Career?
The dental hygiene field is rewarding for many, but it’s not a great fit for everyone. Before applying to a school for training, evaluate whether this career is a good choice for you. The following are some of the most important questions you can ask yourself.
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may be a great fit for dental hygiene. Now that you know this is a good career, continue reading to find out what you need to do next to get started.
Research Dental Hygiene Programs
People seeking foundational knowledge to start up their careers can pursue an associate degree, which provides a comprehensive understanding of the essential principles required for their profession. For those aiming to secure higher-level positions, a bachelor’s degree offers more extensive training and expertise.
Some schools provide dental hygiene master’s degrees, catering to experienced professionals aspiring to transition into administrative roles, educate future dental hygienists, or engage in industry research. This advanced degree equips them with the necessary skills and insights to excel in the top tier of the dental hygiene profession.
Choose Your Education Path
Once you’ve decided where you want to go in your career (or if you have a good idea), choose the starting point that makes the most sense. Here’s some key information that can help you chart your own path to becoming a dental hygienist.
You have several top-notch options when picking a school to earn your dental hygienist degree. Although any school you choose must be accredited, which helps to ensure that you receive a high-quality education, you’ll want to choose a school based on your career goals, area of specialization, and preferences.
Pick a School
Armed with the information about types of dental hygiene degrees and schools there are to choose from, you should feel more confident about making an informed decision about the specific program you want to attend. The following checklist is designed to help you consider additional factors as you research the schools you’re interested in.
Apply to Your Top Schools
Once you’ve made a decision about the type of degree you want to earn and the possible schools you want to attend, it’s time to start submitting applications for admission. To be increase your chances of getting accepted into your program of choice, it’s important to understand how the process works and what schools will expect from you. The following information can help.
As with other types of degree programs, students who apply to dental hygiene schools are expected to meet certain requirements to be admitted. While each program has its own set of requirements, some common application requirements include:
- Achieving a certain score on entrance examinations, such as the SAT, ACT, or TOEFL
- Completing a high school diploma or its equivalent
- Having a minimum grade point average in high school
- Submitting a personal essay
- Submitting letters of recommendation
- Earning a CPR certification
- Submitting to a background check
- Passing prerequisite courses, such as biology, algebra, and chemistry
Application process & fees
During the application process, students may be required to interview with the school and complete observation in a dentist’s office for a certain number of hours. Application fees differ from school to school, but prospective students may expect to pay in the $50 to $100 range.
Complete Your Coursework & Clinical Training
Although the exact courses offered at dental hygiene schools differ from program to program, they are all designed to give students the theoretical knowledge and clinical training they need to earn their license and find employment after graduation. Also, students may gain an understanding of the needs of different types of patients they may treat by taking coursework about special populations, which will help them work with children or senior citizens. To give future dental hygienists a deeper knowledge of the field and the professional standards they are expected to adhere to, coursework may cover law and ethics, where students dive into specific state regulations that govern the way they will be required to work. During the clinical portion of their degree programs, students put the theories they learned into practice through simulations and hands-on clinical practice such as X-rays, anesthesia, and scaling of teeth.
Earn Your RDH License
Earning a dental hygiene degree is a huge accomplishment, but there’s one more step you’ll need to take before you can start looking for employment. Being licensed is required for dental hygienists because it ensures they’ve got the right skills and know-how to provide top-notch oral care. It keeps patients safe and shows that hygienists are dedicated to staying up-to-date with industry rules, the most recent advances in the field, and ethical practices, while maintaining a high standard of care. The specific process for licensure is determined by the state where dental hygienists’ work,. Generally, dental hygienists are expected to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination along with any state or regional licensing exams. In addition, dental hygienists are required to take continuing education classes to keep their license current, including updating CPR certification annually.
Polish Your Resume & Apply to Jobs
After earning your education and credentials, it’s time to impress potential employers and land your first job. To get started, you’ll need to craft a resume and cover letter highlighting the factors employers of dental hygienists care about, such as your education, the skills you obtained during your fieldwork experience, and any previous relevant jobs you’ve held in a clinical setting. Also think about the type of dentistry you’re interested in, such as pediatric, periodontal, hospital, or general. Since students in every dental hygiene program take similar coursework in school, it’s important for job seekers to focus on what makes them stand out from other applicants to get prospective employers’ attention. The following sites offer examples of cover letters and resumes that dental hygienists can model to help them be successful in their job search.
Prepare for the Interview
Whether dental hygienists are newly certified or experienced professionals, they still need strong interviewing skills to land a new job. The key to honing these skills is to practice the answers to questions you’re likely to be asked by employers. The following are some questions that you may be called upon to answer during your interview for a dental hygienist position. If possible, see if you can secure a working interview. This can be a fantastic way to find out if you’re a good fit in that specific work setting.
- How do/would you handle conflicts with a patient?
- What is your experience administering and interpreting diagnostic tests?
- How do you perform an assessment on a patient to determine the state of their oral health?
- Do you have experience working with children and the elderly?
- How do you handle stress on the job?
- Describe a challenging situation you had at work and how you handled it.
- How do you feel about educating patients on their dental home care?
- What do you think makes a good dental hygienist?
- What other duties do you think this position will require in addition to caring for patients?
- Tell me about your biggest strengths and weaknesses. What are you doing to overcome your weaknesses?