Is becoming a dental hygienist right for me?

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What do dental hygienists do?
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How to become a Dental Hygienist

To become a dental hygienist, you'll need to complete specific educational and licensing requirements. Here is a detailed breakdown of the steps involved:

  • Obtain a High School Diploma or Equivalent: To begin your journey, you'll need a high school diploma or GED. It's essential to have a strong foundation in science courses like biology, chemistry, and anatomy.
  • Complete a Dental Hygiene Program: The next step is to enroll in an accredited dental hygiene program. These programs are typically offered at community colleges, technical schools, or universities. Ensure that the program you choose is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), as this accreditation is necessary for licensure. Dental hygiene programs usually take two to three years to complete and result in an Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Dental Hygiene.
  • Fulfill Clinical Requirements: As part of your dental hygiene program, you'll need to complete clinical requirements. These involve gaining hands-on experience in a supervised dental setting, where you'll practice performing dental cleanings, taking X-rays, and other clinical procedures. Clinical requirements ensure you acquire the necessary skills and proficiency for professional practice.
  • Pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE): After graduating from an accredited dental hygiene program, you must take and pass the NBDHE. This is a comprehensive examination administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). It assesses your knowledge and understanding of dental hygiene theory, clinical procedures, and ethical practices.
  • Complete State or Regional Clinical Examinations: Once you pass the NBDHE, some states or regions require an additional clinical examination to assess your practical skills. The format and requirements of these examinations vary by jurisdiction. Check with your state dental board or regional testing agency to determine the specific clinical examination you need to complete.
  • Obtain State Licensure: After successfully passing the required examinations, you'll need to apply for a dental hygiene license from the state board of dentistry or dental hygiene in the state where you intend to practice. The application process typically involves submitting documentation, paying fees, and meeting specific requirements such as background checks or jurisprudence exams.
  • Maintain Continuing Education: Once you become a licensed dental hygienist, you must fulfill continuing education requirements to maintain your license. These requirements vary by state and typically involve completing a certain number of hours of continuing education courses or activities every renewal period.

Helpful Resources
There are several helpful resources available for dental hygienists in the United States. Here are some notable ones:

  • American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA): The ADHA is the largest professional organization for dental hygienists in the US. It provides resources, continuing education opportunities, networking opportunities, advocacy efforts, and access to the latest research in the field of dental hygiene. Their website offers a wealth of information, including practice resources, job postings, and access to their publications.
  • American Dental Association (ADA): The ADA is a leading professional organization for dentists in the US, but it also provides resources that are valuable to dental hygienists. Their website offers information on oral health topics, practice management resources, continuing education opportunities, and access to their journals and publications.
  • Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA): CODA is the accrediting body for dental hygiene programs in the US. Their website provides a list of accredited dental hygiene programs and information about the accreditation process. It is a valuable resource for individuals considering dental hygiene education or looking for information on program quality.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC offers resources and guidelines related to infection control and prevention in dental settings. Their website provides information on topics such as hand hygiene, personal protective equipment, sterilization, and disinfection protocols. These resources are essential for maintaining a safe and hygienic dental practice.
  • State Dental Boards: Each state has a dental board that oversees the licensing and regulation of dental professionals, including dental hygienists. State dental board websites provide information on licensure requirements, regulations, and any updates or changes to dental hygiene practice in the state. They are important resources for staying informed about state-specific regulations and requirements.
  • Continuing Education Providers: There are numerous organizations and online platforms that offer continuing education courses specifically tailored for dental hygienists. These courses cover various topics such as infection control, periodontal therapy, radiography, and advanced dental hygiene techniques. Some popular providers include the ADHA, Dental Learning, Colgate Oral Health Network, and Hygienetown.
  • Additionally, professional dental hygiene journals and publications, such as the Journal of Dental Hygiene and Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, offer evidence-based articles, clinical case studies, and updates on the latest advancements in dental hygiene practice.