what do dental hygienists do

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

FAQ for Pre-Dental Students

Did you know that dental hygienists are in high demand across the United States and Canada, and there is currently a shortage of hygienists to fill the demand? In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the demand for dental hygienists will grow 11 percent between 2020 and 2030 – with about 15,600 jobs opening for dental hygienists each year, on average.

As a dental hygienist, you can help patients lead healthier lives, work part or full-time, earn a good income with an associate degree as well as continue your education and advance your career. Plus, if you are a dental hygienist and ever find yourself wanting to expand your career, there are many options available to you.

For those considering a dental hygiene career, now is the perfect time to consider a pre-dental track program. Let’s explore exactly what a dental hygienist does, what it takes to become a dental hygienist, and answer other frequently asked questions (FAQs) for pre-dental students.

What Do Dental Hygienists Do?

We all wish we could keep our teeth free of harmful, bacterial plaque by simply brushing our teeth and flossing at home. Unfortunately, these efforts (while important!) are not enough on their own. If plaque is not regularly removed, then dental decay, gum inflammation, and other serious oral problems, like acute pain and tooth loss, are not far behind.

So, who removes this dangerous plaque? Dental hygienists.

Dental hygienists are trained dental professionals who remove dental plaque and tartar in a clinical setting. They also are responsible for the following duties:

  • Polish teeth
  • Examine the mouth for signs of problems
  • Communicate these signs to the dentist to evaluate oral conditions further
  • Document patient care and treatment plans
  • Educate patients about oral hygiene techniques and the best ways to manage their oral health
  • Make radiographic images
  • Apply topical fluoride and sealants
  • Explain tooth whitening options
  • Perform below the gumline root planing and scaling

By performing all of these tasks, dental hygienists minimize patients’ dental and gum disease while freeing up time for dentists. Which, in turn, allows dentists the ability to devote their time to higher-level diagnoses and restorative dental treatment.

A dental hygienist is an extremely valuable and important position at any dentist’s office.

Are Dental Hygienists in High Demand? What is their Salary?

Absolutely. As mentioned, there is currently a shortage of dental hygienists which translates to an increasing demand for more and more pre-dental students to become dental hygienists.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that pre-dental students, once licensed and in a career, can expect a median annual wage of $77,810, which equates to roughly $37.41 per hour.

How Do you Become a Dental Hygienist? Are Any Standardized Tests Required?

Dental hygienists are required to have an associate degree in Dental Hygiene, at minimum, as well as state licensure. Additionally, those who want to advance their career can earn a bachelor’s and/or a master’s degree in Dental Hygiene.

Therefore, the first step to becoming a dental hygienist is to enroll in an accredited associate or bachelor pre-dental hygiene program.

At the end of your degree program, you will also need to undergo the state licensure process which involves passing a written national examination as well as a state clinical examination. Note that licensing requirements will vary from state to state, so make sure to research where you want to work after graduation during your time as a pre-dental student. You can read more about the dental hygienist requirements here.

What are the Course Requirements for a Pre-Dental Program?

The course requirements for a pre-dental program vary depending on the school or university. Typically, pre-dental students take introductory science courses like biology, anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, pathology, and physiology. Many schools also require psychology courses and even studio art classes to develop manual dexterity and control.

The UB associate and bachelor’s programs in Dental Hygiene combine general education courses with courses from the Fones School of Dental Hygiene (FSDH) in order to offer a comprehensive education that will prepare you for a rewarding career as a dental hygienist.

Our two-year Dental Hygiene associate degree program covers the core of the dental hygiene program in just 73 credits. The four-year bachelor’s Dental Hygiene degree program covers these same 73 credits and an additional 50 credits to reach a total of 123 credits. Students in the bachelor’s program earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Dental Hygiene.

You can find more information about the course requirements for our associate degree program here and the course requirements for our bachelor’s degree program here.

How Can I Obtain Clinical Dental Experience?

Many pre-dental programs and dental schools require students to have between 50-130 hours of observation at a dental practice prior to applying to dental school. Students are encouraged to contact their local or family dentist to see if they can spend time shadowing in their office during breaks from college.

Pre-dental students at UB participate in a classroom and lab experience called pre-clinic. During pre-clinic, students will practice and learn from fellow dental hygiene students. Upon completion of pre-clinic, students will move onto clinical experience where they will see real patients and this clinical will continue until they graduate from the program.

Our goal for our dental hygiene program is for each student to graduate with an awareness of health literacy, the knowledge of clinical skills necessary to provide care to patients, and a commitment to life-long learning and professional growth.

As you can see, being a pre-dental student and pursuing a career as a dental hygienist is an exciting decision!

While this is not an exhaustive Q&A, we hope the answers were helpful as you look into pre-dental programs and consider a satisfying career as a dental hygienist.

If you are interested in learning more about an associate or bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene, visit our website or schedule a campus tour.

If you’re ready to pursue a career as a dental hygienist, then apply to the University of Bridgeport today. Our supportive staff and faculty are dedicated to helping you advance your life and career today!