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Career Pathways for Dental Hygienists

The best possible news for students considering entry into a dental hygiene program comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS predicts a 30 percent increase in jobs for dental hygienists between 2006 and 2016, making the profession one of the fastest-growing career groups in the nation. The minimum entry requirement for work in a dentist's office, the BLS reports, is an associates degree, diploma, or certificate. However, there are four-year bachelors' degree programs as well as master's degree programs for those who want to advance into teaching, laboratory work, university research, or public-health clinical practice.

Dental Hygienist Coursework
Depending on your school, you may need to complete prerequisite classes in chemistry, English, speech, psychology and sociology before gaining admission to the programs. Once enrolled, you can expect to receive comprehensive training in anatomy, clinical dental hygiene, histology, physiology, microbiology, nutrition, oral embryology, pathology, pharmacology, radiography, periodontology, and social sciences.

The American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) reports that some colleges will also cover curriculum in basic life support, pain control, and legal and ethical aspects of dental hygiene practice. Accredited schools, according to the ADHA, average 1,948 hours of curriculum that includes 585 hours of hands-on, supervised classroom instruction. Students should also possess strong manual dexterity and a desire to work with people.

Licensing Requirements
Every state has its own set of licensing requirements for dental hygienists. Check with the school you plan on attending to make sure you'll be qualified to pass exams in the state where you hope to work. Every state accepts scores from The American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations test. Each state may offer its own clinical exams.

The BLS reports that in 2006 the national median hourly salary for dental hygienists was $30.19, with experienced hygienists earning upwards of $41.60 an hour.

American Dental Hygienists' Association
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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