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Overview

“Open up!” Those words instill panic in the hearts of many. You’ll be the hero who calms their nerves, cleans their teeth, and urges them to become more diligent flossers when you enter the world of dental hygiene. As a dental hygiene major, you’ll learn the fundamentals of oral health and nutrition, the anatomy of the mouth, and how to promote oral safety and care. You’ll also learn about dental care laws and how to manage patients safely. And you’ll come away armed with the knowledge to help patients develop a dental hygiene plan to protect and care for their teeth, thus making this world a cleaner, whiter place.

Because a large part of being a dental hygienist is educating patients about oral health, you’ll gain a wide variety of related skills. Primarily you’ll be providing your patients with preventive care—ensuring their dental health now and in the future. To that end, you’ll learn how to screen for oral cancer, how to take and analyze x-rays, how to administer fluoride, and how to remove deposits from the teeth. Your learning will be both classroom- and lab-based, and eventually you’ll practice your newfound skills on real patients. Woo-hoo! A strong knowledge in the sciences as well as good communication skills are vital for success in dental hygiene.

Dental hygiene programs are generally two years in length, and you’ll graduate with an associate’s degree. To actually become a dental hygienist, you must pass a national written exam and fulfill your state’s requirements for certification.

SAMPLE CURRICULUM

  • Clinical Dental Hygiene

  • Dental Hygiene Techniques

  • Dental Law and Ethics

  • Dental Materials

  • Dental Radiology

  • Infection and Hazard Control

  • Medical Emergencies

  • Oral Health and Nutrition

  • Oral Histology

  • Pain Control

  • Pathology

  • Patient Management

  • Periodontics

  • Preventive Dentistry

  • Tooth Morphology


HIGH SCHOOl PREPARATION

Becoming solidly versed in the sciences—especially biology and chemistry—will give you a great head start on your college studies. And since you’ll need to be an expert communicator, don’t neglect humanities courses like English and languages, where you’ll perfect your written and oral skills. Take advantage of any health or anatomy courses your school offers, too—and pay close attention when talk turns to teeth.