Dental hygienists fulfill a key role in their patients’ healthcare team. They provide oral health screenings, educate patients on dental health care, perform health assessments using x-rays, and remove plaque from teeth. Unlike many other jobs in healthcare, working as a dental hygienist provides you with the unique opportunity to build relationships with patients, as they come in for appointments regularly. As a dental hygienist, you’ll also be able to help patients maintain their overall health through good dental care. For these reasons, dental hygiene is more than just a career for many people. It’s a calling. Becoming a dental hygienist requires hard work and dedication. The first step is, of course, attending a dental school. Here are a few criteria to look for, as well as some tips for choosing the best dental school for you.
What to Look for in a Dental Hygiene School
Not all dental programs in Connecticut are created equal. While researching your future school, these are some of the minimum requirements you should look for.
No matter what dental hygiene school you choose, the program must be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. In most states, this is a stipulation that is required in order for prospective dental hygienists to qualify for licensure. It should be noted, too, that the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the only agency that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit dental hygiene education programs.
Many dental hygienists earn their associate degree in order to enter the field quickly. This three year program lays the foundation that students will need to be able to pass their board licensing exams. However, many dental hygienists choose to return to school and complete their bachelor’s degree in order to expand their job opportunities and advance their career. A bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene provides students the opportunity to minor in advantageous study areas that can be leveraged towards a varied career. Those dental hygienists who earn a bachelor’s degree can work as dental office managers and educators, as well as hygienists, providing them more options than their counterparts who have an associate degree. It’s important that your future school provides you with the kinds of programs that will further your career.
For working hygienists who are hoping to advance their career, it’s important to find a school that offers flexibility to its students. An online Dental Hygiene degree, for example, can provide working dental hygienists with the flexibility they need as well as a quality education. Associate degree holding dental hygienists can complete an online bachelor’s degree in as little as two years. However, classes can be taken where and when students want, giving them the opportunity to continue working in their field.
While the classroom experience is highly important, it’s also fundamentally important that your program offers you hands-on opportunities to learn. Internships allow you to apply your studies in a professional setting, under the direction of an instructor. This invaluable training can make all the difference in helping you become not just a good dental hygienist, but a great one.
Speak to Experienced Dental Professionals
One of the best ways to vet a school is to speak with dental professionals whose opinions you trust, especially if they’re affiliated with a specific dental school or host interns from local dental school programs. Even if they have no connection to nearby dental hygienist programs, they may be able to provide some insights into what the best dental schools are and what kinds of features they offer.
Consider the Credibility and Age of the Program
While new dental school programs aren’t necessarily less trustworthy than more established ones, it’s important to consider the age and credibility of your future dental hygiene program. Look for a dental school that has a reliable track record of excellence, in addition to accreditation. For example, University of Bridgeport’s School of Dental Hygiene is among the oldest dental schools in CT. Founded in 1949, the Fones School of Dental Hygiene is named for its founder, Dr. Alfred Civilion Fones, who actually coined the term “dental hygiene.” While an illustrious founder is certainly not a prerequisite for a school providing quality education, it is important to consider your program’s background, faculty, and history.
Does the School Offer a Variety of Dental Programs?
As a prospective dental hygiene student, know there are a variety of degree programs available to you. If you’re not yet a dental hygienist, it’s important to know your options. It’s even more important that your school provides you with those options. A good dental program should offer aspiring dental hygienists the opportunity to earn an associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree in Dental Hygiene.
Is the School in a Good Location?
When choosing your future dental school, you should consider its location. The definition of a “good” location is, of course, up to you. It’s important that you ask yourself, “What am I looking for in a school?” Is proximity to a large city important to you? Are you looking for a school you can easily commute to? Perhaps a rural location appeals to you. Remember that, unless you’re earning a degree online, wherever you attend school will be the place you’ll be calling home for at least two years.
Does the Dental School Offer its Students Plenty of Support?
As a student, much of your educational experience comes down to how much you put in. However, your school should offer you plenty of support so that you’re set up for success. Search for a school that has a strong academic advising program, as well as a career center. Your academic advisor will help guide the course of your education, helping you to meet your goals. An active and vibrant Career Development department can help you find internships, learn how to present yourself in an interview, and eventually, land your first out-of-college job.
If you’re passionate about patient care and providing a superlative dental experience, it’s important to find the best dental school for you. The right school will prepare you for the career you want by offering support, experience, and of course, exceptional training. With a storied history and talented faculty, University of Bridgeport offers one of the best dental programs in Connecticut. Learn more, here!