If there’s any silver lining to the cloud of financial recession which is hanging over the country right now, it’s that people who have been stuck in careers they’ve hated their entire lives now have the ability to be free of them!
This may have happened by choice or you could be one of the millions of people who were simply downsized over the last 5 years. In any case, you’re now most likely looking for a complete change in career and with dental hygiene proving to be a healthy career choice you’re probably wondering what the requirements on becoming a dental hygienist are?
Dental Hygiene Education
You first step in practicing as a dental hygienist is to get an associate degree in dental hygiene. This degree must also be from a school or college which has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). In some rare cases a certificate or diploma in dental hygiene might acceptable, but in terms of licensing a minimum of an associates degree is usually required. The vast majority of dental hygiene degree courses (more than 80%) are semester based, plus almost half of these courses will include summer study sessions.
A part-time curriculum is offered in a small number of dental hygiene courses, as is the opportunity for distance learning – although this is usually reserved for people studying for a bachelors or master’s degree in this field. When studying for an associate degree in dental hygiene you will need to be available for regular lectures and other tutorials, so you’ll need to plan your life accordingly.
Entry Level Requirements
If you intend studying for a certificate or associates degree in dental hygiene you will need to meet some basic academic requirements such as:
- Currently hold a GED, or high school diploma
- Obtain a C average in mathematics, chemistry, biology and English
- Meet or surpass college entrance test scores
- Have up to 40 credit hours of prerequisite courses in sociology, psychology, chemistry and English
- Passing a college entrance assessment such as an interview, dexterity test and also an essay
If the above seem like we’re exaggerating what’s required to gain entrance to a certified dental hygiene degree course it’s worth remembering that almost 95% of colleges which offer dental hygiene programs have limited spaces for students. In recent years as few as 25% of students who actually applied for places in an associate degree program were admitted, so any academic advantage you can give yourself during the college application process should be utilized.
Dental Hygiene Curriculum
Here’s a quick break down of what you’ll be expected to study once you’ve been accepted into a dental hygiene associate degree course, the following being a general guide to what each degree program will require:
- You will need to attend over 2,500 clock hours of classes and lectures
- You must perform over 600 hours of supervised instructional dental hygiene
- You must attend general courses in English, speech, psychology and sociology
- You will also be required to study chemistry, physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology and nutrition
- The study of dental anatomy, oral embryology, oral pathology, radiology, periodontology, pain control and head and neck anatomy is also required
There’s also a range of dental science courses to undertake, which include oral health, preventive counseling, clinical dental hygiene, dental and medical emergencies and, of course, supervised instruction in both clinical and pre-clinical practice
More than 80% of associate degree programs will require you to perform a rotation in a public or community health setting
Degree Program Availability
Fortunately every state in the country offers an entry-level dental hygiene program of one kind or another, and on a national basis there are more than 290 different associate degree programs to choose from. In terms of tuition fess you can expect to pay in the region of $30,000 for an associate degree, over the duration of the degree program itself. While this might seem excessive to some people considering dental hygiene as a future career it’s worth noting that the average salary for a qualified dental hygienist is around $70,700 per year, and quite often more than that.
If you already have an existing certificate or associates degree in dental hygiene you might now be in a position to further your career as a dental hygienist. There are two paths for doing so:
1) Degree Completion programs
These programs are for people who have a certificate or associate degree in dental hygiene but want to take their academic qualifications to the next level.
2) Master’s Degree
Undertaking a master’s degree is ideal for dental hygienists who have already completed their bachelor degree and intend entering into the areas of research or lecturing
As you can see the requirements for becoming a dental hygienist focus on not only the academic aspects of this field of medicine but are also balanced out by several hundred hours of actual clinical practice too.