Dental hygienists ensure dental patients’ care, health

October 13, 2017 GMT

Finding a niche in the dental industry where you can make a difference in a patient’s life can involve a career as a dental hygienist, where care begins.

As the forefront person in an office with whom patients meet before their treatment with the dentist, a dental hygienist has the potential to have a long-term, rewarding career.

Joanna Allaire, Lone Star College-Kingwood director of dental hygiene, said dental hygienists play an important role in the oral health of every person who enters a dentist’s office.

“People who enjoy helping individuals lead healthier lives, and who are patient- and detail-oriented are perfect candidates for this profession,” Allaire said.

Duties of a dental hygienist can include cleaning teeth, examining patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and providing other preventive dental care. They may also participate in educating patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dental hygienists was $72,910 in May 2016 with employment projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. The opportunities provided by ongoing research linking oral health to general health will continue to spur demand for preventive dental services, which are provided by dental hygienists, the BLS stated.

The BLS also reported that in 2014 almost all dental hygienists worked in dentists’ offices and more than half worked part time.

The educational requirement is an associate degree in dental hygiene, which typically takes two years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed, with requirements varying by state.

The American Dental Association (www.ada.org) reported that dental hygienists are able to receive their education through academic programs at community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools or universities.

A university-based dental hygiene program also can provide baccalaureate and master’s degrees that require at least two years of further schooling. Additional degrees may be required for a career in teaching and/or research, as well as for clinical practice in school or public health programs, stated ADA.org. There are several hundred Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)-accredited dental hygiene programs in the United States.

Jillian Roos, clinical assistant professor at UT Health School of Dentistry and adjunct faculty member at Lone Star College-Kingwood, worked in a private practice in Sugar Land as a dental hygienist before becoming an instructor. Her favorite part of this profession is not only taking care of patients, but also the flexible work schedule.

She said there are many fulfilling aspects working as a dental hygienist.

“We’re constantly looking in the mouth for diseases and bringing it to the attention of the dentist. You get to have a relationship with the patients and help to educate them. You make them feel at ease. That’s rewarding. They’ll want to come back to you. You get to make a difference,” Roos said.