If you want to become a dental hygienist, there are different paths you can take. Some people who have experience in dental assisting already may enroll in a bridge program that allows them to build on their prior education and experience to start a new career. On the other hand, those who have no experience in the health care field can begin their dental hygiene training from the ground up and learn all of the principles and techniques of the field.
No matter which path sounds right for you, the information on this page can guide you through the process. Continue reading to find information on the steps involved in becoming a dental hygienist, such as the different schools and degree levels students can choose, the characteristics people should consider when selecting a school, and how to get the best results while job hunting.
Do Your Strengths Align with a Dental Hygiene Career?
The dental hygiene field can be rewarding, but it is not necessarily 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
Sound like a career for you? Now it’s time to pursue your degree. Those who want to get fundamental training to begin their career can earn an associate degree to familiarize themselves with the principles they need to know to do their job. Those who want more in-depth training to obtain higher level positions can earn a bachelor’s degree. In addition, some schools offer dental hygiene master’s degrees, which are for those who already have experience and want to move to administrative roles, teach future dental hygienists, or conduct industry research.
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 a path from aspiring dental hygienist to working in an office.
Students have several options when it comes to picking a school to obtain a dental hygienist degree. Although it is imperative that any school they choose is accredited, which will ensure that they receive a high-quality education, students may choose a school based on their goals and preferences.
Pick a School
Armed with the information about types of dental hygiene degrees and schools there are to choose from, prospective students can make an informed decision about the specific program to attend. The following checklist is designed to help people consider additional factors as they research the schools they’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. In order to be successful, it’s important to understand how the process works and what schools will expect. 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 in order to be admitted. While each program has its own set of requirements, some common examples 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 graduates need to take before they can start looking for employment. The specific process for licensure is determined by the individual state where dental hygienists’ work, however, generally people are expected to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, as well as a state or regional licensing exam. 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 getting the education and credentials you need, 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 to highlight the things that employers care about, such as your education, the skills you obtained during their 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 in order 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 — and the key to honing these skills is to practice the answers to questions they’re likely to be asked by employers. The following are some questions that prospective employees may be expected to answer when they interview for a position. And, if possible, see if you can secure a working interview. This can be a fantastic 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?