Becoming a dental hygienist can be relatively fast with only a 2-year associate course or program course required to graduate. These are often offered in community colleges or technical colleges, however, they are also offered in dental schools and universities. The dental hygiene schools need to be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in order for the program to be valid.
A 2-year associate’s degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree course is required to attain a degree in dental hygiene. Getting an associate’s degree is enough to start practicing as a dental hygienist in dental offices. Acquiring a bachelor’s degree however, has more advantages in the long run as there will be more job opportunities with higher salary compensations. You will not be limited to being a dentist’s assistant but could further pursue a career in research, teaching, clinical practice, administration or public service under the federal government. When it comes to personal career development, a bachelor’s degree offers a broader educational base. This includes humanities as well as other disciplines through the initial two years prerequisite courses including sociology, English, nutrition, chemistry, biology, speech and psychology.
Most dental hygiene schools need these basic prerequisites before you can apply for admission. You will need a high school diploma, you must be at a minimum age of 18 years old, you have a minimum of ‘C’ average in your grades, a passing college entrance exam score and basic high school courses in chemistry, biology and English. Requirements in every school or program course will differ but these are usually the basics prior to admission. Most programs prefer those who have completed at least one year of college. Some bachelor’s degree program requires 2 years of college. Some require completion of chemistry, English, speech, psychology and sociology courses first.
If you are wondering what courses such as English, speech, psychology and sociology have to do with dental practice, it is because half of the job of a dental hygienist involves teaching a patient about proper oral health care. A dental hygienist does more than just do basic cleaning and treatment, they also serve as advocates for proper oral health care. Part of their job requires socializing with patients, helping them get rid of phobias with the dentist, teaching them proper brushing and flossing techniques as well as helping them learn about periodontal diseases and ways to prevent it.
The career path of a dental hygienist doesn’t start after graduating from an accredited dental hygiene program. They still need to undergo a rigorous studying to qualify for licensure. They will need to pass two kinds of examinations – written and clinical. This will ensure that even after only two years of studying and clinical training, the dental hygienist is ready and capable of handling a dental patient. Almost all states require the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination in addition to the regional or state clinical exam. There are also states that may require an exam on the legal aspects of dental hygiene practice. Dental hygienists who passed all exams and been granted a license may now put an ‘RDH’ (Registered Dental Hygienist) after their names to signify that they are duly licensed and can be trusted for clinical practice.