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In Demand: Dental Hygienists

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A Career You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

Amazingly, even in today's economy there is one occupation where there are actually more jobs than there are people to fill them. The job pays well, has part-timeopportunities and you don't need a graduate degree (or even a bachelor's degree!) to get it. If you're interested in pursuing a career as a dental hygienist, here are some facts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Dental hygienists work alongside dentists to provide preventative dental care that includes cleaning teeth and teaching patients good hygiene. They also take and develop dental x-rays, apply sealants and, in some states, even place and carve fillings. They can't diagnose diseases, but dental hygienists can prepare clinical and diagnostic tests for the dentist to interpret.

Training and Education
To become a licensed dental hygienist, applicants must first graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school and pass a written and clinical test. Most states also require an examination on the legal aspects of the practice.

To work in a private dental practice, dental hygienists must have at least an associate's degree in dental hygiene. For research or public health positions, a bachelor's or master's degree is preferred. Half of dental hygiene programs require at least one year of college before admission.

Dental hygienists need good manual dexterity, since they will be moving dental instruments in a patient's mouth.

Dental hygienists held about 148,000 jobs in 2002, and almost all of them were in dentists' offices. A few worked for employments services or in physicians' offices. Some hygienists also enter careers in teaching, research or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists enjoy relatively high pay and comfortable working conditions. Flexible scheduling is characteristic of this job, since dentists often hire hygienists to work just two to three times per week. Therefore, hygienists may work full-time in more than one office, part-time, evenings or weekends. In fact, more than half of all dental hygienists worked part-time.

Nine of 10 full-time and part-time hygienists receive dental coverage, and those who work for schools, public health agencies, the federal government or state agencies usually have hefty benefits packages.

However, hygienists must take strict safety precautions to guard themselves against disease and injury. They must observe proper radiological procedures when giving x-rays and wear safety glasses, surgical masks and gloves. In addition, they must use protective devices when administering anesthetic gas.

According to the BLS, median annual earnings of dental hygienists were $26.59 in 2002. Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, salary or commission basis. Benefits vary by employer and may require full-time hours.

Source: BLS September 2004

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM

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