Dental Hygienist
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Occupation Overview

If you've ever been to a dentist's office for a check-up you've probably come in contact with a Dental Hygienist. They are the ones that clean your teeth and teach you how to care for your teeth and mouth. Their primary objective is to control disease and promote oral health.

While most Dental Hygienists work in the offices of general dentists and dental specialists, others work in public health agencies, public schools, HMOs, and for dental supply companies. Many dentists employ one or two Hygienists.

This occupation should not be confused with Dental Assistants. While Dental Assistants require half the training of Dental Hygienists, the earnings of Hygienists are two to three times higher.

According the 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook (provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), this occupation is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2010. In fact, it's one of the 30 fastest growing occupations. This occupation is less affected by economic cycles than many others, and is ideal for older job seekers.

People who like to help others, have a steady hand, and are able to master the necessary scientific concepts can excel in this career. One of the benefits of this career is that both full- and part-time positions are available. In fact, most Dental Hygienists work in more than one office (in part because dentist's don't have to pay benefits if they have two part-time Hygienists instead of one that works full-time).

In some offices computers are used to chart the health of gums. In the future Dental Hygienists might be using computers for even more tasks.


Future Growth Opportunities

Opportunities for Advancement:
Promotions generally come in the form of increased wages and responsibilities. One can also become an Administrator or Manager.

Skills Transferable to:
Public Health Educator, Dental Hygiene Clinician, Teacher, Consumer Advocate, Dental Hygiene Researcher. Opportunities also exist to work with specific populations such as children or the elderly, or specialized areas such as periodontics.


Job Descriptions

Dental Hygienists perform a variety of tasks. The typical Hygienist spends most of their time cleaning the teeth of others: removing calculus (tartar), plaque and stains from the teeth, and then polishing and flossing the teeth. Teaching patients how to practice good oral hygiene, and motivating them to do so, is an important aspect of their job. They also review the patient's health history.

Identifying problems such as cavities and oral cancer is another critical function they perform. They also might apply preventive materials such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth, or take and process X-rays. Some Hygienists might also remove sutures, or place and remove temporary fillings and periodontal dressings.

A California state license is required to practice this occupation. To become a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) one must complete an accredited program, pass both a written and clinical exam, and pass a criminal investigation.

Not all Hygienists work in dental offices. Other options include public health offices, educational institutions, and pediatrician's offices.

Other jobs available to those with training and experience as a Dental Hygienists include:

Researchers can study specific aspects of dental hygiene. They define research objectives and methodology, collect and analyze data, write articles for publication, write grant proposals.

Educators teach others by creating or editing educational materials, presenting the materials, and acting as consultants to dental companies.

Entry Level: $21 - 40/ hour ($34 / hour average)

Experienced, New to Job: $23 - 45 / hour ($35 / hour average)

Experienced in Job: $25 - 57 / hour ($39 / hour average)

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