Dental Hygienist Schools – increasingly popular

Dental hygienists belong to one of the most rapidly growing professions in the world and dental hygienist schools experience an increasing interest in the education and career opportunities for dental hygienists. But where exactly are the dental hygienist schools and what can you learn there?

Want to be a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists belong to one of the most rapidly growing professions in the world and dental hygienist schools experience an increasing interest in the education and career opportunities for dental hygienists. But where exactly are the dental hygienist schools and what can you learn there?

Dental Hygienist Schools

In the US dental hygienist schools mostly include community colleges and technical colleges that offer 2-year programmes in dental hygiene, leading to an associate’s degree. It is also possible to take a 4-year bachelor degree at the university and some dental hygienist schools even offer a master’s degree. The difference between the 2- and the 4-year programme is that the bachelor degree includes courses in e.g. psychology, sociology, chemistry, biology, nutrition and more. While the associate’s degree is adequate for landing a job in a clinic, the bachelor also opens opportunities to work within dental education, administration, research etc.

After completing an education at a Dental Hygienist School, a dental hygienist earns the right to add ‘RDH’ (Registered Dental Hygienist) before his or her name. A hygienist must be licensed in the state that she or he wishes to practice.

Dental Hygienist Schools’ requirements for admission

  • Minimum age 18
  • High school diploma or GED
  • High school courses in English, math, biology and chemistry
  • Minimum grade average: C
  • College entrance exam scores

Dental Hygienist qualifications

The clinical qualifications gained through an associate’s degree (minimum) at dental hygienist schools include:

  • Oral examinations in the clinic (incl. gathering information about patients’ oral and medical health history).
  • Teeth cleaning and polishing
  • Oral profylaxis (adding sealants and fluorides to teeth)
  • Taking, developing and assessing oral x-rays
  • Dental hygiene instruction (teaching patients how to care for their teeth)
  • Taking impressions and making models of teeth

In some American States as well as in many European countries the qualifications of dental hygienists (and thus the programmes at dental hygienist schools) are expanding to include disciplines such as:

  • Polishing fillings and metal restorations
  • Administering anesthetics
  • Preparing laboratory and clinical tests for the dentist to assess
  • Removing and placing fillings and periodontal dressings

There are many resources on the Internet offering lists of Dental Hygiene Schools. The American Dental Hygienist Association is also an excellent source of information for dental hygienists and others interested in information about dental hygiene education.

Dental assistants, an invaluable part of the dental clinic

Dental assistants are essential for the dental clinicDental assistants are essential for any dental clinic. Dental assistants are the ones that make the daily activities in the dental clinic run smoothly. The dental assistants are often the first persons you see, when you arrive at the clinic and the last ones you speak with, before you leave. Dental assistants might have held your hand while in the dental chair or might have chatted with you while you were waiting for the dentist. But dental assistants are much more than friendly ‘hostesses’ that make patients feel comfortable. What other tasks do dental assistants perform?

Traditionally dental assistants assist the dentist in the clinic, by…

Passing and holding instruments and materials, when the dentist needs it: Many procedures performed by your dentist are actually done best with not only two, but four hands. The dentist needs to use many different kinds of instruments and materials and it would be both time consuming and unhygienic if he (or she) would have to find them by himself and put them down and pick them up all the time. In order to be effective, the dental assistant needs to be very alert and needs to know the different procedures well enough to pre-assess what the dentist will need next. It is an impressive sight to see experienced dental assistants in action. They know exactly what the dentist will need and when, and have it ready for him exactly when he reaches out for it.

Keeping the dentist’s ‘work area’ clear: A dentist’s ‘work area’ is the mouth of his patients. For dental assistants keeping this work area clear involves suction of saliva and blood. Sometimes it is also necessary for assistants to hold cheeks and other oral tissues aside for the dentist to have a more clear view and less obstacles.

Preparing and clearing the clinic before and after patients: It is the job of the dental assistants to prepare the clinic room by laying out the needed instruments and applying hygienic tape etc. before the patient arrives. After the patient has left, assistants clear away the used instruments and change hygienic tape and paper towels. After the last patient has left, the dental assistants clean and disinfect all surfaces in the clinic.

Cleaning and sterilizing instruments: All clinics have a special room for sterilization of dental instruments. All instruments must be cleaned, disinfected and sterilized after each use and this is the job of the dental assistants. Assistants therefore need to be familiar with hygienic procedures and the use of the different machines for sterilization.

Other clinical tasks that can be performed by dental assistants are…

  • Taking and developing x-rays
  • Mixing materials for fillings etc.
  • Making individual bleaching trays and (maybe) performing the bleaching procedure
  • Taking impressions and making cast teeth models
  • Polishing teeth
  • Scheduling appointments and managing patient charts
  • Making temporary crowns
  • Applying dental sealants
  • Instructing patients on dental hygiene and educating them on oral health
  • Ordering dental supplies for the dental clinic

Dental assistants’ work day can be very varied and includes tasks both in the clinic, the office, the dental lab and the sterilization room. If you would like more information about education, salary and working conditions for dental assistants you can follow the links below:

American Dental Assistants Association

Bureau of Labour Statistics for Dental Assistants

Wikipedia – Dental Assistants