What Are Your Goals?
The first step in becoming a dental hygienist is to figure out your future educational and career goals. Do you have goals to work directly with patients in a clinical setting or do you have the desire to become an instructor? This is important to know, because not evernay dental hygiene school is structured to help you reach your goals the same way.
Choosing a School
Associate’s Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree
To work clinically or with patients directly, you will need at least an associate’s degree from a nationally accredited program. Though an associate’s degree is a two-year program, most programs still require entry-level science classes as pre-requisites to the program. These classes usually consist of biochemistry, biology and anatomy and physiology.
Once pre-requisites are completed and you are admitted into the program, there are generally two years of studies and clinical work within your program. You will be required to complete various program requirements within those two years in order to prepare yourself for the written national board exam, as well as the clinical exam your region requires.
If you are looking to become an instructor or would like to do research in the dental field, most of these career opportunities will require a bachelor’s degree. Though the associate’s degree program and the bachelor’s degree program follow the same type of national accreditation standards, the bachelor’s degree program offers more classes for a well-rounded education. With this, you will have more options regarding your future in the dental profession.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what the future holds. If you plan to get an associate’s degree and later desire a different career in the dental hygiene field, you do have options. There are degree completion programs that will allow you to complete your bachelor’s degree in about a years’ time. Some of the degree completion programs do require campus attendance, while others provide the full education online.
Take Dental Hygiene National and Regional Board Exams
After completing your associate’s or bachelor’s degree, you will be required to take both a national and regional board exam. The national exam is a two-part written exam that is necessary for your licensure throughout the United States. The regional board exam is usually compiled of both a written section and clinical section, specific to your residing states requirements. There a few different regional exam options and not all exams are accepted in each state. It is important to know which regional exam is accepted for each state you seek licensure.
Getting Your Dental Hygiene License
Once you have completed your associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, you will need to become licensed in your residing state in order to practice. Each state has a different set of licensure steps that include national board exams, regional board exams and clinical qualifications. It is important to know your states specific licensure requirements while completing your education. Some states, such as California and Florida, have their own specific requirements and often require their own written and clinical examinations, as opposed to a regional or national exam like many other states.
Every state will have a separate jurisprudence exam that you will need to take in order to apply for a dental hygiene license. The jurisprudence exam consists of your chosen state’s laws, professional continuing education requirements specific to that state and their code of ethics.
Obtaining this licensure is important for you to continue your dental hygiene career. You may not practice as a dental hygienist without this license clearly displayed in the dental office for which you reside. Some states do offer temporary licensure for clinicians to practice while they are waiting for the official documentation to arrive.