Education and Training Requirements
The minimum requirement for admission to a dental hygiene school is a high school diploma or GED. While in high school, you should follow a college preparatory program, which will include courses such as science (biology, chemistry), mathematics, history, English, and foreign language. It will also be beneficial for you to take health courses.
Two levels of postsecondary training are available in this field. One is a four-year college program offering a bachelor's degree. More common is a two-year program leading to an associate's degree. The bachelor's degree is often preferred by employers, and more schools are likely to require completion of such a degree program in the future.
The American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation (http://www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program) has accredited about 330 programs that offer one or both of these academic paths. Classroom work emphasizes general and dental sciences and liberal arts. Lectures are usually combined with laboratory work and clinical experience.
Other Education or Training
Dental hygienists are required by their state and encouraged by professional organizations to continue learning about trends in dental care, procedures, and regulations by taking continuing education courses. These may be held at large dental society meetings, colleges and universities, or in more intimate settings, such as a nearby dental office. The American Dental Hygienists' Association, American Dental Association, and dental organizations at the state and local levels also provide professional development opportunities.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
After graduating from an accredited school, you must pass state licensing examinations, both written and clinical. The American Dental Association Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (the written aspect of the examination process). This test is accepted by all states and the District of Columbia. The clinical part of the examination is administered by state or regional testing agencies. Additional requirements for licensure vary by state. Those who become licensed can use the acronym RDH (i.e., registered dental hygienist) after their names to signify that they are licensed by the state in which they work.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Ideally, aspiring dental hygienists should have prior experience operating dental equipment and working with patients. This experience can be obtained via work as a dental assistant or during an internship while in college.
Dental hygienists need technical skills that enable them to operate machinery involved in cleaning a patient's teeth. Manual dexterity is also necessary to handle delicate tools for scraping teeth, removing stains, and polishing teeth. Skill in handling delicate instruments, a sensitive touch, and depth perception are important attributes. Dental hygienists must also be familiar with X-ray machines that they use to take pictures of teeth that help to identify cavities, and jaw and gum problems.
To be a successful dental hygienist, you should be neat, clean, and personable. Compassion and sensitivity to a patient's needs are also important qualities for hygienists to provide effective care.