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5 things to know before deciding to be a dental hygienist

A career in dental hygiene puts you in a position to help others while working in a growing, lucrative field. Working as an oral healthcare professional is a great choice for many reasons, but it’s not for everyone. Before spending the money, time and effort to become a registered dental hygienist (RDH), it’s important to know as much as possible about the job. Here are a few things to consider before jumping into an RDH training program.

1. It’s not really about teeth.

You may be considering dentistry because you like its clinical aspects. The best dental hygienists know the art and science of oral health, but they also recognize the importance of a human touch.

It’s about patients.

As a dental hygienist, much of your time will be spent working with patients. This may sound obvious, but in dental hygiene, your people skills are just as important as your clinical skills. You’re more than just a clinician; you’re also an advisor. RDHs help patients learn good oral health habits. They also screen for illness such as thyroid problems. On top of that, RDHs represent the entire dental practice in their interactions with patients. Positive interactions are a must. To be a successful hygienist, you’ll need to understand both people and their mouths.

It’s also about the team.

Registered dental hygienists are an important part of the practice they work in. As an RDH, you’ll work with the front staff, dental assistants, other hygienists and the dentist. The success of the practice is your success, so adopting a team-player attitude is important.

2. Location matters.

Each state has its own requirements for licensed oral healthcare professionals. That’s why it’s important to decide where you want to work before beginning the licensing process. Keep in mind that you’re not limited to just one state; if you want to work as a traveling dental hygienist, you may need more than one license. In some states, licensure by credentials or reciprocity agreements make working in more than one state easier.

Some RDHs can take on more responsibility than others.

States make their own laws regarding what a hygienist can and can’t do. In some places, hygienists can own their own practices and treat patients without the direct supervision of a dentist. In others, RDHs can only perform clinical tasks under the orders and supervision of a doctor of dental surgery. If you hope to work independently, this is important to keep in mind.

Where you work determines your salary (and how hard it is to get a job).

Although the job outlook is good for dental hygienists, the market varies from state to state. Some states have more openings than hygienists. In others, the opposite is true. It may be more difficult to find employment in saturated areas, such as locations near hygienist training programs.

Salary also depends on location. For example, dental hygienists earn much more per hour in Washington DC than they do in Alabama. It’s important to look at the job market before deciding where to work.

3. Not all dental hygiene careers are full time.

Many people start out with the goal of landing a permanent, full-time job. But the job market is rapidly changing in response to social and economic pressures. Today’s dental careers often look different from the traditional nine to five.

You may not be able to get a full-time position.

Dentistry has always made use of temporary and part-time workers, but a growing number of dental practices are choosing to employ RDHs as they are needed rather than on a permanent basis. That often means hiring part-time workers for busy times. It also means filling gaps with temporary workers or labeling positions as temp to hire.

Here’s why you may not want a single full-time job.

In recent years, workers in many industries have started working for themselves, putting together full-time work schedules from multiple temporary and part-time jobs. For some, this is a response to the job market. Others simply like freelance-style work better because of its flexibility. RDHs who put together their own schedules can set their own hourly rates and decide when and where to work.

4. Your best bet may be to work for yourself.

The promise of finding work may attract the newly licensed RDH to an RDH temp agency. While it’s tempting to sign on with a dental hygienist temp agency, that may not be the best move. Placement agencies often don’t have the best interest of the worker in mind. Dental professionals who work for agencies have little to no say in where and when they work, and high fees for dental practices mean dental hygienists get paid less.

For RDHs who want to travel or decide their own work locations, it’s better to take matters into their own hands. If you’re willing to be your own boss and build your brand, you can be competitive as an RDH. The best approach to this is using Cloud Dentistry. The cloud-based job platform makes it easy for dental hygienists to find the right jobs for them.

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When considering whether to become an RDH, consider whether you would enjoy being an entrepreneur. While working in a permanent job or working for a temp agency are options, you may be able to earn more and get more flexibility by putting together a schedule of part-time, temporary jobs.

5. Dental hygiene can be repetitive, both physically and mentally.

Dental hygiene often results in physical strain due to its repetitive nature. Common physical complaints of dental hygienists include back, neck, shoulder, hip and wrist pain. Other health issues, such as communicable illnesses, can also be a problem. Ergonomic products and practices can help with the physical issues. On the product side, dental hygienists may have to purchase their own supplies such as gloves, masks and loupes. In some cases, hygienists even purchase larger items such as chairs.

It’s also important to note that in a clinical setting, dental hygiene work is extremely repetitive. There is little opportunity for variety if you allow your career to stagnate. However, some hygienists pursue expanded functions to keep their minds sharp and their jobs engaging. If you’re registered with a dental association such as those listed on the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s site, you may get free or discounted continuing education materials. There’s also the possibility of nonclinical work such as education, writing and consulting. While work like scaling and polishing is the same day in and day out, there are ways to keep things interesting.

Thinking of becoming a dental hygienist?

It’s important to carefully consider a career in dental hygiene. It’s not for everyone, but if you decide that it’s right for you, there are many rewards. It means a lot to know you’ve helped someone regain their confidence, improve their health or avoid disaster. Career-wise, it’s a flexible option with the potential for growth.