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Dental Hygiene

The Breakdown

Though we might dread our visits to their office, there is no arguing that dentists and dental hygienists serve an important role.  They strive to keep our gums healthy, our teeth free of plaque and our smile intact.  If you’re interested in biology, helping people and all topics concerning the mouth (but don’t think you want to commit to dental school) then dental hygiene could be the track for you.

If you pursue dental hygiene, you’ll learn how to become a vital member of the dental team.  Not surprisingly, you will study anatomy, with a strong focus on the head and mouth along with the basics of oral health and nutrition.  Further, you’ll learn how to implement and explain prevention tactics for various oral afflictions and diseases.  You’ll also cover processing and interpreting x-rays, delivery of local anesthesia, taking patient histories, removing deposits and even dental law.  And, of course, most schools require students to participate in a practical component of their curriculum.  Finally, though you can certainly earn a bachelor’s degree, many dental hygiene programs are offered as two-year, associate degrees.       

Armed with an affinity and talent for the sciences, dental hygiene students are often detail-oriented and rely heavily on strong quantitative and analytical skills.  Of course, since they aim to enter a people-focused industry, communication skills are also essential.  Finally, they are known to floss after every meal.


Nuts and Bolts

As a dental hygiene major, you should be prepared for a challenging, science-laden curriculum featuring classes like: Oral Anatomy, Dental Hygiene Techniques, Community Oral Health, Microbiology, Oral Pathology, Clinical Practicum, Nutrition in Dentistry, Oral Radiology, Periodontics, Dental Materials, Patient Management and Geriatrics, and Local Anesthesia and Nitrous Oxide.

Decisions, Decisions

Dental hygiene students are curious about health and the sciences.  Therefore, majors might also consider studying biology, nursing, pre-dentistry, chemistry, pre-medicine, pre-optometry, public health, nutrition, pre-pharmacy, bio-chemistry, dietetics, physician assistant, physical therapy or pre-optometry.

What's Next

For the majority of dental hygiene students, their career path is laid out in the name of their chosen major.  Indeed, most graduates continue on to become practicing dental hygienists.  Prepare yourself for removing plaque, applying fluoride and teaching your patients about good oral hygiene.  Moreover, as a dental hygienist, you’ll have the opportunity to practice in a variety of settings such as private offices and clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, local (and state or federal) health departments and even correctional facilities.  It’s important to know that before you can start practicing, you must be licensed.  To qualify, you need to have a degree from an accredited institution and to pass both a written and oral exam administered by The American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (phew – that’s a mouthful).



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Don Munce