Dental hygienists are able to work largely independent of dentists, although they are required to rent out a chair in a dentist's office. Individuals in this profession can clean teeth, perform dental examinations, and provide advice to patients on proper oral care and treatment. According to the BLS, the average salary of a dental hygienist is $68,250/year. The job outlook for this profession is well above average at 38% (average = 14%). Most dental assistants only have an associate's degree, making this one of the best professions to pursue based on education requirements and average salary.
Choosing the Right Dental Hygienist Program
Becoming a licensed dental hygienist is the beginning of what will hopefully be a fulfilling new career. However, just getting the license is at the end of a long road that begins with your education.
In order to be able to sit for the licensing exam, you need a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school. Many factors go into choosing the dental hygiene program that will be the best fit for you.
The first factor is cost. You want a program that is affordable, that offers you financial aid, or that qualifies for federal financial aid (hopefully, all three). Information about applying for financial aid to attend a dental hygiene program is available here from Scholarships.com.
The second factor is credibility. If you are hoping to be licensed afterward, any program you attend should be accredited by the American Dental Association. The packet describing the standards outlined by their Commission on Dental Accreditation is available here.
Length of Time
The third factor is the kind of time investment you are willing to make. The length of a dental hygiene program can range from two years (an associate degree that will allow you to become licensed and work in a dentist's office) to four years for a bachelor's degree. Even more advanced degrees, such as a master's in the field, are also possible. While you may make a higher salary with a master's degree in dental hygiene, or MSDH, you may also want to start working after the associate degree, in order to get experience in the field before pursuing further education.
An additional factor is geographical area. Since there are so many accredited dental hygiene programs all around the United States, if you live in any U.S. state, you probably won't have to travel far to find one. This means that you may have the convenience of picking a program that is near your family and current job, as long as the program satisfies the other factors.
Taking the Exam
Once you have chosen your dental hygiene program, satisfied that program's requirements and graduated, you will need to make arrangements to take your licensing exam. Any information you need about the licensing exam can probably be found at the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations website, which informs potential test takers about regulations, rules of conduct, testing procedures, eligibility requirements and more.