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Everyone goes to the dentist to get their teeth clean.

A hygienist is the individual who

people typically see at the dentist unless they are going in to get treatment done. Though we all

know what a hygienist is, what it takes to get there, or understand all that their job includes?

Hygienists are very busy, very educated and very knowledgeable about their field of study.

Job Description

Dental hygiene is often perceived as limited to the cleaning of teeth. However, this is not

true. Dental hygienists have an array of responsibilities. These responsibilities very by state.

Typically, responsibilities include taking and developing, if applicable, dental x-rays, and

"complete dental prophylaxis by cleaning deposits and stains from teeth and from beneath gum

margins” (McKay 2017). Daily duties include preliminary examination of patient teeth and

gums. This also entails observing for oral cancer. Though these duties involve examinations of

the mouth, a dental hygienist works under the direction of a licensed dentist and is not legally

allowed to diagnose treatment. Other responsibilities include scaling and root planning, taking

impressions of the teeth, and getting patients numb for the dentist and well as while treating

periodontics disease.

General Career Path

In order to become a licensed dental hygienist, one must complete an associate’s degree,

or higher, specifically in dental hygiene. It is beneficial to begin as a dental assistant, in the sense

that you gain basic understanding of dental vocabulary, teeth numbers, treatment options, and

learn how to interact with patients regularly, however it not required. Once one has received their

dental hygiene license there are a variety of routes they can take.

The ADHA (Careers Center, 2017) explains the possible paths;

“Dental hygienists in a clinical role assess, diagnose, plan, implement, evaluate and
document treatment for prevention, intervention and control of oral diseases, while
practicing in collaboration with other health professionals. Corporate dental hygienists
are employed by companies that support the oral health industry through the sale of
products and services. Community Health programs are typically funded by government
or nonprofit organizations. Research conducted by dental hygienists can be either
qualitative or quantitative. Dental Hygiene educators are in great demand. Colleges and
universities throughout the U. S. require dental hygiene instructors who use educational
theory and methodology to educate competent oral health care professionals. Dental
hygienists in administrative positions apply organizational skills, communicate
objectives, identify and manage resources, and evaluate and modify programs of health,
education and health care. By using imagination and creativity to initiate or finance new
commercial enterprises, dental hygienists have become successful entrepreneurs in a
variety of businesses.”
The responsibilities of each path vary. The most common path is the clinical role. These are

those hygienists practicing in private practices. Corporate hygienists are most commonly sales

representatives. Entrepreneur hygienists include a hygienist owned practice; though with owning

a practice the hygienist still has to work under the direction of a dentist.

General Education Experience

“To become a hygienist, you need an associate degree, bachelor degree, or a master

degree. You need to get your dental hygiene license and every two years you are required to

renew it, which usually costs about $40. Over that two-year period, you are required to receive

30 continuing education credits (A. Davenport, personal communication, April 4, 2018).” The

minimum requirement in Utah is an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, completing the written

National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, and completion of the Utah state clinical board

examination. Once those steps have been completed then a license can be received. “Licensure is

a means of protecting the public from unqualified individuals and unsafe practice” (Education

and Research 2017). This license has to renewed every two years and you are required to

complete 30 continuing education credits, at least 15 of these have to be done in a live lecture
and a maximum of 15 credits can be done online. If the state board finds that a hygienist has

acted contrary to the requirements and regulations of the licensing, the board has the right to

revoke the license at any time.

Average Salary

The average salary for a hygienist varies per state, as well as, per city. For Utah, in 2016,

the average salary was $71,070. In 2016 the Provo Orem area had an average salary of $72,990,

where Logan had an average salary of $46,080 (Dental Hygienists Salary Information in Utah,

2017). That’s a $26,910 difference! According to a hygienist is Riverton, Utah (A. Davenport,

personal communication, April, 4, 2018) “Having a higher degree doesn’t mean you get higher

pay, it means you can do more such as become an instructor, but in this office both me and the

other hygienist get paid about the same, I have a bachelor’s degree and she has an associate’s

degree.” Some hygienists are paid hourly where others are paid on commission. Lori Sterrett is a

dental hygienist at Lighthouse Dental and she is paid on commission. She reported (L. Sterrett,

personal communication, April 18, 2018): “Dr. Sam Richey started me on an hourly wage but a

few years ago he told me that I needed to be more motivated and switched me over to

commission. Which, sometimes is great and other times it sucks. The most I have ever earned in

a single day is $674.80, where the lower I ever earned was a mere $80.54.” In a dental office

there are days that patients cancel one after another, and in Lori’s situation it can hinder their pay

which affects them financially.

Career Outlook

Dental hygiene is expected to have a 20 percent growth from 2016-2026. This growth is

faster than the average expected growth (Dental Hygienists, 2018). The outlook for this career is
very optimistic. The demand for hygienists is on the rise, however, the competition is also on the

rise. Although most hygienists work part-time creating more job openings, finding a fulltime

position for dental hygiene is very difficult and very competitive (Dental Hygienists, 2018).

Unfortunately, in Utah there are many individuals who are studying to be dental hygienists but

an unable to find work due to the large amount of people in the field.

Bio of someone in the profession

I was able to interview two hygienists working under the direction of the same dentist.

Alisa Davenport is a mother of three young boys. She went start dental hygiene school and when

she had two years left she met her now husband. She was able to graduate from dental hygiene

school with her bachelor’s degree before she had her first child. The main way she paid for

school was through grants and scholarships. She works one day a week at Lighthouse Dental and

every other Saturday at another office. At Lighthouse Dental is she paid hourly with commission

bonuses on certain procedures. For example, most insurances don’t cover fluoride treatment on

adults. If an adult patient decides to pay the $15 for the fluoride treatment she receives $5 out of

the $15. Alisa loves her job for a variety of reasons, especially the relationship she gains with her

patients, as well as those she works with. With a world full of options, she chooses to stay in this

profession because it works well with her family and where she is in this stage of life (A.

Davenport, personal communication, April 4, 2018).

Lori Sterrett is also a dental hygienist at Lighthouse Dental. About 8 years ago she

attended Salt Lake Community College to receive an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. At the

time she was in her mid-40’s and her youngest child was 14. She would match her schedule the

best with her kids’ so that when they were at school she was at school and when they did

homework she would do homework. This helped to balance her school and family life (L.
Sterrett, personal communication, April 18, 2018). Unlike Alisa, Lori is completely commission

based. As patients come in to receive cleanings or periodontics maintenance she receives a

predetermined amount of commission. s

Pros and Cons

The pros and cons of dental hygiene vary dramatically. Yet, they are important factors to

consider, making it difficult to decide if the pros out-weigh the cons. For Alisa the biggest pros

include the social interactions between her and her patients, the pay, and the flexibility of hours.

Recently she was able to take a few months off for maternity leave (A. Davenport, personal

communication, April 4, 2018). The work environment is comfortable to work in and the

employment opportunities this career offers (S. Writers, 2017).

Some cons are no benefits, the longevity is typically limited to 7 or 8 years, dynamics of

working in an office full of women can lead to drama in the workplace, and ergonomics, one’s

efficiency one is able to do their job, as dental hygienists typically develop neck, back, and hand

pain (L. Sterrett, personal communication, April 18, 2018). Other disadvantages are difficult

patients, such as those with high dental anxiety or those who refuse to accept treatment.

However, there are ways to help with patient anxiety, for example “babying-them, being really

friendly, and explaining what and why you are doing what you are doing” (A. Davenport,

personal communication, April 4, 2018). Finding a job after graduation when the competition is

very high. Along with working with bodily fluids such as blood and saliva.

My “fit” with this dental hygiene

It’s hard for me to say if this career is the career for me. I like the outlook of the career,

as well as the average salary. While attending Dental Hygiene school you can’t work while going
to school, that is a huge concept for me to accept since I am very independent and it’s hard for

me to depend on someone to provide the basic needs to live. This would be a great career for me

because the schedule is very pleasing to me and I love doing the same thing every day. I love to

continue my knowledge and I love interacting with the patients that I already see in my current

job. My main concern would be growing tired of doing the same thing every day. This has really

opened my eyes to the demands of this career and motivates me to work harder so I can advertise

myself better against the competition.

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Davenport, A. (2018, April 4). Dental Hygiene Career [Personal interview].
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Education & Research. (2017). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from
McKay, D. R. (2017, June 18). What You Need to Know about Becoming a Dental
Hygienist. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from
Sterrett, L. (2018, April 18). Dental Hygiene Career [Personal interview].
Writers, S. (2017, October 28). The Pros & Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist. Retrieved
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