According to the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA), dental hygienists have rewarding careers in which they are able to enjoy flexible work schedules, good salaries and a variety of job opportunities. In order to enjoy the benefits of working in this field, a dental hygienist must meet certain education and training requirements.
In order to qualify to work in this field, dental hygienists must graduate with a degree or certificate from an accredited dental hygienist training program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) has approved 301 training programs as of 2008. Accredited training programs are available through universities, colleges and community colleges across the country. Some of these programs offer part-time and distance learning courses.
The ADHA estimates that students must complete an average of 2,794 course hours to obtain an entry level degree in dental hygiene. This involves taking several general education and dental science courses such as psychology, anatomy, pharmacology, oral pathology and patient management. According to ADHA, students enrolled in bachelor degree programs are also most likely to take more patient care courses than those enrolled in associate's degree programs. Elective or specialization courses may also make up part of the curriculum.
Admission requirements for dental hygiene training programs vary for each school. General requirements include a high school diploma or equivalent including the completion of chemistry, English and math courses. Students may also need to submit their college admission test scores and an essay with their application. Some training programs may also require students to complete basic college courses including English, psychology and chemistry prior to enrollment. The ADHA reports that admission to most of these training programs is very competitive.
Once students have completed their dental hygiene training at an accredited school, they will be required to obtain a state license. Most state licensing boards require dental hygienists to meet certain work experience and exam requirements. With the exception of Alabama, state licensing boards require dental hygienists to pass a written exam administered by the American Dental Association's (ADA) Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. Clinical and dental law exams are also required in most states.
Most dental hygienists are required to complete several hours of internship either to meet licensing requirements or to complete their training program. Prospective dental hygienists might help out at private dental offices, community or public health clinics to complete their internship requirements. During this time they will be required to work under the supervision of a licensed dental hygienist.
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