How do you become a Dental Hygienist?
In order to graduate from an accredited hygiene school, you must first be accepted. This is often the hard part. It tends to be VERY competative to get accepted to dental hygiene school since it is a good paying job. Especially on the west coast. I think it is a little easier to get accepted in certain parts of the south, and the Midwest. Basically any state that has a lot of dental hygiene programs (like more than 10) it will probably be easier to get accepted.
You generally need to complete between 1 and 2 years of pre-requisites before you can apply. Generally your grades in these courses is the main criteria they use for selecting students....so get good grades. On the west coast you will need almost all As in these classes. Common pre-reqs are chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, nutrition, public speaking, writing, algebra or pre-calculus, and several humanities and social sciences.
Once accepted the program lasts at least 2 years, some are 3 years. In school you will take
a full load of academic classes while simultaneously maintaining a clinic schedule 2-3 days a week. You will treat live, paying patients on designated clinic days (with supervision, of course). You usually begin working on each other the first term and then the second term you start working on the public. It is a very busy and challenging 2 years, but well worth it. You'll have to be organized, dedicated and good at science to make it through school. Working a part-time job is possible (I did it) but most students focus 100% on school because it is intense.
You will need to pass the national dental hygiene board examination prior to graduation. If you pass that, you will be eligible to sit for your regional or state's clinical board examination where you are graded on a live patient. If local anesthesia (injections) are permitted in your state you will probably need to pass a separate test for that.
To become licensed in your state you will also need to pass a state exam regarding the laws and scope of practice and ethics for that state. Then you pay a fee of about $100 to $200 a year to maintain your license. Most states require that you do a certain minimum hours of continuing education each licensure cycle.
You will probably need to pass a background check and possibly a drug screen.
Once you've jumped through all the hoops, it is a very rewarding and well paid career. But I warn you it is harder than you think and you do a lot more than just "clean teeth" and it's a lot bloodier and grosser than you could ever imagine. The repetative physical work it is especially hard on your back, neck and wrists, so if you already have issues in those areas of your body, then dental hygiene wouldn't be a good fit for you. If you are outgoing, compassionate and a general "nurturer" or "helper" this may be a great career for you, but warning: MONOTONY is a common complaint!!!
With all that said, I'm glad I went this route. I currently make $36 an hour with great benefits and great hours. I work in a fun office and I love my patients and co-workers. My body hurts most days after work though.