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What Are My Career Options in Dental Hygiene?

If you're interested in mouth, teeth and dental issues, a career in dental hygiene may be right for you. Read on to learn about your career options in this field.

Dental Hygiene Career Options

As a dental hygienist, your work will focus on helping people maintain good oral health. If you go into clinical practice, you'll assist a dentist in providing in-office dental care and instructions to patients.

Though most dental hygienists work in clinical practice in a dentist's office, other career options are available. You could also work for insurance companies, schools, universities, government agencies or public health organizations. In these settings, you may focus on different aspects of dental care, such as research, education, administration, advocacy or policy creation.

Important Facts About Dental Hygiene Careers

Median Salary (2018) $74,820 per year (for dental hygienists)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 20% growth (Much faster than average)
Continuing Education Training will be required to maintain license
On-the-Job Training None required
Similar Jobs Dental Assistant, Medical Assistant, Radiation Therapist

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

The job duties you may have as a clinical hygienist include performing dental assessments, screening for dental cancers, evaluating gum disease, taking X-rays and cleaning teeth. You may also apply protective sealants to teeth and administer anesthetics. Your care of patients includes education, such as discussing smoking cessation methods, educating patients on dental care techniques and discussing the role nutrition plays in dental health.

As a researcher, you could help develop new clinical techniques or treatments, discover new ways to prevent disease or innovative new dental materials. If you go into education, you'll teach dental hygiene students or help write educational materials. In administration, you could manage a dental office or review insurance policies. As a consumer advocate, you'd fight for consumers to gain access to dental care and give advice regarding insurance or political issues affecting dental care access. Working in public health, you could help develop community oral health programs that aim to prevent disease.

Work Conditions

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than half of dental hygienists worked part-time in 2018 (www.bls.gov). Because dentists often hire hygienists to work in their offices only a few days a week, you may need to work for multiple dentists if you want full-time work. Your work requires that you take safety precautions to prevent the spread of disease, such as employing the use of gloves, surgical masks and safety goggles.

Education Options

Completion of an accredited dental hygiene program is required to work in this field. Most dental hygienist jobs require at least a certificate or associate's degree, and positions in public health, research or teaching often require a bachelor's or master's degree. Courses in an undergraduate dental hygiene program may cover oral anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition, pathology and dental materials. Your program will also include clinical training, and bachelor's degree programs include an internship and research components. Master's degree programs focus less on the clinical aspects of dental hygiene, featuring courses in grant writing, epidemiology, student teaching, dental administration, statistics and leadership. As a master's degree student, you may also need to complete a practicum and write a thesis.

Licensure Requirements

Licensure is another requirement to work as a dental hygienist. Most states have education requirements you must meet and written and clinical exams you must pass to become licensed. States usually use a written exam from the American Dental Association Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations and administer their own clinical exam.