Most people assume that if they want a career in the field of oral health, they'll have to take a four year postgraduate degree and become a dentist. However, there are many more dental services than just dentists themselves. There are dental assistants and medical receptionists and dental hygienists too. To find out more about what dental hygienists do and how you can become one, read our overview on the field of dental hygiene. You never know - it may change your whole career path.
So what is the difference between a dentist and a dental hygienist? While a dentist primarily focuses on recognizing and treating oral health issues like cavities, gingivitis, and oral cancer, dental hygienists focus more on preventing these issues from occurring in the first place. Dental hygienists usually work at dental offices and usually see patients either before or after the dentists has seen them. They do not directly assist dentists. That job falls to the dental assistant.
Typical tasks performed by dental hygienists include taking dental x-rays, scaling away accumulated tooth plaque and tartar, polishing and flossing teeth, sealing teeth with protective coatings, and applying fluoride treatments. The dental hygienist will also assist the dentist by going over the patient's dental care routine and suggesting adjustments that will better help prevent plaque buildup and other oral health issues. When working independently, dental hygienists can also refer patients to a dentist for special treatments.
Dental hygienists are licensed professionals, so you cannot simply up and decide to join this profession like you can decide to be a office worker. You must complete the requisite training and be certified by the relevant regional or local authority. Many dental hygienists are self employed or part of a communal practice, so it is recommended that anyone planning to become a dental hygienist takes some training in running a small business and keep their credit rating in good order in case they need to take out a business loan on a startup. Some dental hygienists also work in research, training, public health, and administration.
Dental hygiene is not a career field you can study in from the comfort of your home via an online career college. To become a dental hygienist in Canada, you need to complete a three year Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. In the United States, you can get away with an associate degree. Rules for what procedures dental hygienists can perform vary from province to province and state to state, as to the exams for certification. Dental hygiene is a fairly lucrative career field. Dental hygienists in North America can expect to make between $30 and $55 per hour. So if you find yourself interested in root canals, family dentistry and dental marketing, go ahead and apply to your local program and speak to the experts.
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