The relationship between dentists and dental hygienists is comparable to the relationship between doctors and nurses. Although they often assist dentists, or work under their supervision, dental hygienists are trained and licensed dental-care practitioners in their own right. They perform a variety of cleaning and cosmetic services, provide temporary fillings and, in many states, can administer anesthetics and order laboratory tests. As with nurses, hygienists typically train for two to four years before gaining their license.
Graduate from high school, or earn a GED. The dental profession is heavily science-oriented, so it helps to weight your course work toward the sciences and mathematics.
Check the admissions requirements at colleges in your area that offer dental hygiene programs. Schools vary widely in their requirements, so you might need to take at least one year of college-level courses in the humanities and basic sciences before you can apply and gain acceptance.
Complete a training program accredited by the American Dental Association. Most program take two years, and award an associate degree. Some schools offer a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. There are also a few one-year certificate programs for candidates who already hold a college degree.
Take and pass the Dental Hygiene National Board Examination. It's required for licensing in most states, and a valuable indicator of competence and professionalism even where it's not mandatory.
Apply for licensing through your state's appropriate board. Most states require candidates to pass written or practical exams. Licensees must demonstrate knowledge of the state's legal and ethical requirements as well as professional competence.
- A few schools also offer graduate degrees in dental hygiene, which can be necessary for some teaching, research or public-service positions.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 38 percent job growth for dental hygienists by the year 2020, much higher than the 14 percent average for all occupations.
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