Career Paths for Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists represent one of the fastest growing job categories and the prospects for future growth are excellent according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 30% by 2016 as a result of the increasing demand for dental care and dentists’ greater use of hygienists to perform dental care services formerly performed by dentists.  One of the biggest advantages of a career in dental hygiene is that more than half of the employment opportunities are part-time making flexible scheduling a real advantage. Evening and weekend schedules are widely available and many offices hire hygienists to work 2 or 3 days a week allowing the hygienist the option to arrange a work schedule that includes work in more than one dentist’s office. Almost half of the dental hygienists work less than 35 hours a week.

Another advantage is the relatively high salaries dental hygienists command. The median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were over $30.00 an hour in 2006 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and have increased since that time. Wages vary depending on experience, education, job responsibilities and geographical location. According to the American Dental Association 86% of dental hygienists receive hospital and medical benefits.

Most dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices with a few working for physicians, nursing homes and public health clinics or teaching dental hygiene to the general public for schools, community organizations and governmental agencies or teaching at the college level preparing future dental hygienists. There are also opportunities for dental hygienists in medical supply companies as a sales representative. Regardless of where a dental hygienist works a career in dental hygiene offers you the opportunity to help others in maintaining good dental health.

Dental hygienists do more than just clean patient’s teeth they teach patients about good oral hygiene and examine teeth and gums for the presence of disease or other problems. Dental hygienists working in dentist’s offices use x-ray machines, ultrasonic cleaning devises and in some states licensed hygienists administer anesthetics, insert and carve filling materials and smooth and polish metal restorations. Some dental hygienists move into administrative jobs either in dentists’ offices helping to run the business side of the practice or with government agencies and community organizations developing public health and dental hygiene educational programs and writing grants to obtain funding for those programs.

To take advantage of the career advancement opportunities you need to make a commitment to continuing your dental hygiene education. Most states have continuing education requirements which must be met to keep your license. These continuing education classes are offered through educational institutions and professional associations. You should also take advantage of the conferences and other professional networking opportunities offered through the professional associations and consider developing informal relationships such as establishing a mentorship relationship with an experienced dental hygienist you respect and admire.

There are a broad array of career advancement opportunities for dental hygienists but you need to be prepared to take advantage of those opportunities. An investment of your time in improving your skills and competencies is an important component of your career plan.

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