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How Do I Get Certified to Be a Dental Hygienist?

DentalPost takes a look at the training and education, how to get certified, and the job description of a Dental Hygienist.

Dental hygienists typically work in a dental practice. They are responsible for patient care and work under the supervision of a licensed dentist. To become a hygienist, you will typically need a combination of both education and experience. Different states also have different certification and licensure requirements.

Required Education

In most cases, the minimum education required is an associate degree. Most hygienists earn the degree from a local community college, technical school, or trade school. The course of study typically takes 2-3 years for the associate degree.

Some hygienists earn their degrees from 4-year colleges or universities. In such cases, the hygienist will also earn a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. A bachelor’s or master’s degree can help the hygienist become certified to conduct research and teach in the field. A bachelor’s degree generally requires two years of study beyond an associate degree. A master’s degree typically requires 1-2 years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree.

To gain admission to a dental hygiene program, you first need to earn a high school diploma. In many cases, a school will also require the student to complete one year of education beyond high school before starting a dental hygiene program.

A student must take two years of general coursework in some colleges or universities before becoming admitted to a hygienist program. These general education courses will typically include courses in liberal arts education, such as sociology, psychology, and English.

Once admitted to a dental hygiene school, you take classes specific to your major. Typical courses include the following:

  • Human anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology
  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Pathology

In addition to the above courses, you must also complete classes in radiology. You must also gain knowledge about various dental materials used on the job.

In addition to your classes, most programs require students to complete clinical work. This clinical work involves working in a supervised environment while providing patient care. Your training focuses on caring for a patient’s dental health, examining patients for diseases, and educating patients about caring for their teeth and gums.

In many cases, a registered dental hygienist will certify in a particular area after obtaining a degree. For instance, some job seekers pursue further certification in public health, education, marketing, or business administration.

Keep in mind that every school is different. For more information about a school, visit its website or contact an advisor at the school.

Continuing education is also essential for hygienists because technology, dental practices, and methods are constantly changing in dental care. A registered dental hygienist should stay abreast of changes in the field. Joining American Dental Hygienist Association or monitoring the American Dental Association website can help a hygienist stay educated. The ADA and the ADHA also provide information on conferences and continuing education information.

Necessary Experience

Work experience is also crucial for job seekers in the field of dental hygiene services. Clinical work while earning a degree in dental hygiene will typically prepare workers by giving them real-world experience. However, some employers may want their job candidates to have 1-2 years of experience after completing a degree.

Certification Requirements

All states require hygienists to be licensed. However, the requirements to become a registered dental hygienist (RDH) vary by state.

In most states, you need to complete the following to obtain a license:

  • Graduate from an accredited program in dental hygiene
  • Pass the National Board of Dental Hygiene exam
  • Pass the regional or state clinical board exam

The requirements in the state where you live could be slightly different than the above guidelines. Be sure to contact the licensing authority in your state.

For more information on licensure in your state, contact the American Dental Hygienist Association.

Job Description

The working environment for a hygienist requires professionalism at all times. Patients’ oral health and confidentiality must be protected and maintained. Most hygienists work in a general dental office or for a dental group.

Most dental offices require hygienists to perform the following job tasks:

  • Clean, descale and polish teeth
  • Examine and treat gums for infection
  • Performs patient screening for possible oral cancer or infections
  • Educates patients about their oral hygiene
  • Takes x-rays
  • Maintains dental supply inventory
  • Keeps patient info confidential
  • Removes dental sealants
  • Practices safe infection control procedures
  • Examine patients’ teeth and treat diseases with the help of a licensed dentist

The ideal candidate will have good communication skills and be able to provide high-quality customer service. Hygienists are responsible for greeting patients and making them feel comfortable. Hygienists and other staff members should focus on creating a pleasant patient experience.

Some dental practices will require their hygienists to be flexible team players. Most practices employ office workers to schedule appointments and run management software such as Dentrix. However, every practice is different. A hygienist or a dental assistant may also be required to know how to use office equipment, take payments, and schedule appointments.

Hygienists may work full-time or part-time in a dental office. The job benefits available to hygienists will vary according to the offerings of the specific dental office. In many cases, a part-time dental hygienist does not get benefits. However, a full-time dental hygienist may receive health benefits, paid time off, and other job benefits.

There is some flexibility among dental practices in terms of hours worked. For instance, both part-time and full-time employees will get time off when dentists take personal vacations. Some offices stay open a bit later than others, too, which requires workers to work extended hours.

Online Job Postings for Dental Hygiene Jobs

Many job postings are available online through job application portals. A list of job responsibilities will follow the job title or job type because a hygienist’s job duties may vary slightly according to the needs of the family dentistry office or group clinic. A full-time position will generally offer benefits.

Some online job portals will allow you to create job alerts. A job alert can be sent to your email daily or weekly to notify you about new job listings. is an ideal website for you to search for the right practice to work for and to post your availability to work. You can also post your license and all other training in your DentalPost profile.

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