A dental hygienist is that outgoing personality who helps keep the teeth, gums and mouth healthy. From cleaning and x-rays to oral exams to detect signs of disease like gingivitis, a dental hygienist does it all.
In fact, a career as a dental hygienist offers a wide range of challenges. In the dental office, the dentist and the dental hygienist work together to meet the oral health needs of patients. As a dental hygienist, you can expect to counsel patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health, and teach patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health. You’re the person who meets with patients, assess their oral health, review their history and screen for oral cancer. You perform the cleanings, dental x-rays and preventive procedures like sealants and fluorides.
If you’re interested in a career as a dental hygienist, get prepared now. Be sure to take courses in biology, chemistry and math while in high school. After high school, consider a community college or four-year university. Most dental hygienists have an associate's degree in dental hygiene, plus a license. It’s important to make sure the program is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. There are more than 300 accredited dental hygiene programs. A program in dental hygiene usually takes about three years. You’ll take classes in anatomy, medical ethics, nutrition, pathology, physiology and periodontics as well as labs and clinical.
Nearly all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, and many work part time. You may find that some dental offices are open Monday through Thursday, with Fridays off.