Dental nurses, more commonly known as dental hygienists, work for dentists in the same way that nurses do for doctors. Check out available training programs for dental hygienists and take your first steps towards a rewarding dental career with real growth potential.
Overview of Dental Nurse Training
Working as a dental nurse means performing as a valued member of a team headed up by a dentist. Dental nurses work directly with patients to clean teeth, perform preventative maintenance, remove hard and soft deposits, examine teeth and gums, and update patient records. In addition, they work in tandem with a dentist during the examinations, working chair-side to offer the dentist the proper tools.
Dental nurses most often work in private dentists' offices, though they can also be found at physicians' offices, general medical and surgical hospitals and outpatient care centers. As a dental hygienist, you might work in a public dental clinic or for an exclusive dentistry clinic. Your experience, licensure, certification and training will all help determine your job opportunities as a dental hygienist.
If you're looking for flexibility in your career, working as a dental nurse is a smart move. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that about half of all hygienists worked part time in 2008. Working part-time gives hygienists a chance to keep up with family commitments without sacrificing a work-life balance. Those who are looking for more hours and a higher salary may work for multiple dental offices.
Dental Nurse Training: Degrees and Coursework
An associate's degree is the most common credential for aspiring dental hygienists, although some programs offer a certificate, bachelor's degree or master's degree. Applicants should have a high school diploma and prerequisites can include high school level coursework in biology, chemistry and mathematics. From there, a 2-year associate degree program gives you the targeted training you'll need to enter the dental nursing field with confidence. Coursework in a dental hygienist training program is likely to include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Chemistry and microbiology
- Radiography and histology (the study of tissue structure)
- Periodontology (the study of gum diseases)
- Dental materials and clinical dental hygiene
Coursework like the above will help you learn the clinical skills you need in a dentist's office. Beyond book-based work, dental hygienist programs typically offer clinical training, either at an on-site clinical facility or with a facility in the community.
The BLS reports that as of 2008, 301 dental hygiene programs were accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Beyond associate degree programs, bachelor's and master's degree programs are considered more appropriate for students who wish to eventually go into teaching or research related to dental hygiene.
Dental Nurse Career Outlook
Careers for dental hygienists are expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations, the BLS reports. In fact, the career is one of the fastest-growing of all jobs, thanks in part to a growing demand for dental care and an increased use of dental hygienists. About 62,900 new jobs are projected to enter the industry between 2008 and 2018, for an increase of 36%.
According to the BLS, dental hygienists earned mean annual wages of $67,340 in 2009. The lowest 10 percent of earners brought home $44,900, while the top 10 percent earned $92,860. Hygienists in California earned some of the highest wages in the country; those in the Santa Rosa-Petaluma area earned annual mean wages of $112,290 in 2009, while those working in the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City area earned $102,470. The BLS indicates that over 18,300 dental hygienists were employed in the state of California in 2009.
Though a salary over $100,000 may be rare for a dental hygienist, the potential to earn a healthy salary with an associate's degree is just another of the benefits of working in the field. Explore dental hygienist career training programs and take your first steps towards a rewarding career in the dental industry.
Resources for Dental Nurses: