The dental hygienist is an important member of any dental care team: As specialists in preventive oral care, they clean teeth, apply sealants to protect teeth and talk to patients about how their diet can affect oral care. Dental hygienist requirements vary by state, but there may be some overlap in coursework. Here is what you can expect out of a standard dental hygiene program:
Some programs do not have prerequisite classes that need to be taken, as important classes are taken while you are in the program. However, most programs do want a certain skill set in place before you take the dental hygienist program. High school students who have already decided to be a dental hygienist will want to consider taking math, chemistry and biology courses. If you are going through a community college, then requirements may include anatomy and physiology, communications or chemistry. The dental hygienist program itself will contain dental anatomy, pharmacology, biomaterials and periodontics.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), an associate degree can be earned through tech schools, community colleges, universities and dental schools. An associate degree is all that is needed to take the licensure examinations. Universities may also have bachelor's and/or master's degrees, which are usually needed for teaching and research positions.
Passing an ADA-accredited program and receiving an associate degree is all that is needed for you to take the examinations. Most states require you to pass a state exam in addition to a national exam, while others may only want the state or national exam. In either case, the program will prepare you for both exams.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that dental hygienist employment is projected to grow by 33 percent on a national level through 2022. This number is spread out through the nation, so there may be varying numbers of positions available in the state you are in. It may be possible to take tests in other states to get certified if you are planning to move there. However, there may be other course requirements that are required to receive your certification. You may need to take courses in psychology, interpersonal relations and even physics. Contact the ADA or the state certification board for more information about their state-specific dental hygienist requirements.
A dental hygienist program provides a great start into the dental field, and yields a long, satisfying career. If you are thinking about this field of study you should consider your hand dexterity, compassion for patients as well as feeling that you are detail oriented. These traits are important for the dental hygienist.