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Becoming a Dental Hygienist

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Perhaps you have thought about a career in dental hygiene. Dental jobs fill an important role in public health and are also very rewarding. It takes years of advanced education and training to become a dentist, but there are other career fields available in the field of dentistry. There are dental assisting jobs, dental hygienist jobs, dental technician jobs, and dental manager jobs. Although these jobs generally do not pay as much as a doctor of dentistry earns, these positions also do not require as much education and training. They still pay quite well, and can be very rewarding.

Dental assisting jobs are often available with on-the-job training. A dental assistant is the person who is assisting the dentist when you are in the dentist's chair. They take x-rays of your teeth, assist the dentist with the vacuum suction in your mouth, and help prepare molds for crowns and fillings. There is training and education available in dental assisting at technical colleges, junior colleges, and community colleges. Some assistants are hired with no experience and are trained by the dentist and other assistants.

Dental technician jobs require more training, and they pay a little better. They do the actual creation of crowns, bridges, dentures, and other dental prosthetics. They usually do not work in a dentist office, but in a dental lab. Dental lab technicians usually work for small businesses and the work they do is usually prescribed by a dentist who contracts with the lab. There is training and education available for dental lab technicians at technical colleges, junior colleges, and community colleges. Some of these programs are accredited and have associate's degrees available. Some technicians are hired with no experience and are trained by workers in the dental technician lab with on-the-job training. Others receive experience in the military.



A dental manager may be anything from a professional business manager for a large office conglomerate to a receptionist or bookkeeper. Dental manager jobs require varying levels of education and training, depending on the position one wants to fill. There is training and education available for dental managers at technical colleges, junior colleges, and community colleges. Some of these programs are accredited and have associate's degree programs available. Some management staff are hired with no experience and are trained by the dentist or other office workers, with on-the-job training.

The highest paying of the dental jobs, other than the actual doctors and dentists, is the dental hygienist. Dental hygienist jobs also require higher, more-specialized training. Usually an associate's degree is required from either a junior or technical college. If you plan on becoming a dental hygienist, it would also be a good idea to get a head start in high school by taking as many courses as you can in science, biology, and chemistry. If you have already finished high school, and did not do that, you might need to take a few extra courses at a community or technical college. After you have finished education in dental hygiene, you can choose to work practically anywhere you want. Whether you want to live in a small town in a rural area or in a large urban city, if there is a dentist there, there is usually a need for a hygienist. Many of these jobs pay upwards of $50 an hour once you have completed training. Right out of college you will still require some on-the-job training before you are able to work on your own as a dental hygienist with a patient.

Your work as a dental hygienist complements the dentist's work. The dentist does more in the way of repairing decaying or damaged teeth, while the hygienist works to prevent decay from beginning in the first place. A typical session with a patient takes about half an hour, during which the hygienist cleans each tooth individually. Hygienists also map each tooth and give an evaluation and a score to the condition of the gums in your mouth around each tooth. They alert the dentist to signs of possible decay, gum damage, or any other risk factors so that repair and preventive measures can be taken to prevent further damage. They also educate the patient in proper hygiene, such as the proper way to brush teeth and the use of dental floss, electric tooth brushes, water picks, and other cleaning devices. One of their most important duties, in terms of the amount of difference it will make in the health of the patients teeth and in addition to teaching them how to use proper hygiene, is to motivate them to do so. It does little good to teach a patient how to floss if they still will not floss. If hygienists can encourage and motivate the patients to properly take care of their teeth, this could make more of a difference in the overall health of their teeth than anything the dentist or hygienist can do.

The dental hygienist also needs to motivate and encourage the patient to come back for regular checkups and care. Many patients wait until they have a problem to visit the dentist. The reasons for this may vary. They may not want to incur the expense of paying for a visit to the dentist. Or they may not want to endure the discomfort of having the dentist or hygienist work on their mouth while they sit still in a chair holding their mouth open. Or they may simply be too busy. However, this avoidance of regular dental care is almost always counterproductive. It usually results in the patient having a problem which requires a longer visit to the dentist, requiring more repair, which inevitably means more time, more discomfort, and higher expense than if they had been going in for their regular six-month checkups.

An example one dentist used was that of a large office building. Every once in a while a light burns out, and building maintenance personnel would need to come in with a ladder and a spare light and interrupt the office's work day while they changed the light bulb. The building's owners found that it was much less expensive and much less interrupting to have maintenance come in after hours, once every six months, and replace every light bulb in the building whether it needed it or not. Undoubtedly they threw away some good lights, but those lights would have eventually burned out at an inconvenient time. Instead, they were all replaced each six months, and they never had a light bulb burn out again, thus saving time, hassle, and money. This analogy relates to how we should care for our teeth with regular dental checkups, even if there is nothing wrong with your teeth. The dental hygienist plays an important role in this process. You can see how dental hygienist jobs are important for the patient, are a great aid for the dentist, and have rewarding jobs.
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