Thursday, May 21, 2015

Do you have what it takes to be a RDH?

Hi friends!  I'm always amazed that even one person reads this blog.  I never intended on keeping up with it after hygiene school but here I am four years later!  I am honored that so many of you take the time to read and leave comments and contact me directly to ask questions.  One question I get often is "Can you give me some tips & advice on how to become a dental hygienist?".  So I thought, why not make it into a post for all to read!  What I'm getting from a lot of you is that there isn't a lot of information out there about HOW to become a hygienist or WHAT we do exactly (the "what" we do will be a post for a different day!).  So here we go, my best advice tied into a neat bow! ;-)

First and foremost: I would highly recommended those interested in becoming a hygienist to work as a dental or hygiene assistant first.  This is critical - it allows you to experience the field without committing to a program or degree that you may or may not be interested in.  Being an assistant will allow you to know if you can even handle working in someones mouth! (It's not for everyone)

Heavy calculus ("tartar") 

Bleeding gums (upon probing or in general)


Heavy plaque
Oral cancer caused by HPV


See what I'm saying?  If any of the above makes you sick to your stomach (not to mention the bad breath that accompanies most oral conditions that I couldn't post in a picture...)...you might not be cut out to work in the dental field! 

If you can't get a job assisting quite yet (depending on what state you live in, you do not have to have certification to become a dental assistant - I was trained on the job right out of high school.  In fact many high school programs have a dental assisting program you can be a part of junior or senior year! Look into it!), at very least shadow someone in the field.  You need to know what you're getting into, and most programs want their students to have that experience. 

I want to add in here to that working in the dental office hurts...physically!  If you are one who already has neck and shoulder problems, this might not be a great field for you.  You are in a hunched over position for most of the day and you do repetitive hand movements all day long.  You WILL have a sore neck/back at some point in your career.  YES!  There are loups & ergonomics that can really help you out (I live by ergonomics 90% of the time because I have developed very bad neck/shoulder problems already) but there are some patients where you absolutely cannot practice ergonomics and have to put your neck & back in positions that are very uncomfortable for extended periods of time.  You and a masseuse or chiropractor will become great friends! 
(PS: "Ergonomics" is posture for those who were wondering)

Second: It's very important to enroll in a school (a university or community college that has a DH program) and speak to a health counselor about the specific requirements for that school.  You will be a science major so a lot of science classes are involved.  Don't be intimidated!  I found all I needed was self-discipline to study and I was completely fine.  You do need good grades - most hygiene programs require a high GPA.  Even if they say a GPA of 3.0 to get in...you can bet that most of the gals (and guys!) have a 3.3-3.5 to be accepted. 

A lot of programs have a wait to get in.  Again, don't be discouraged by this.  Just apply every year until you're in!  It took me 3 tries before I was accepted.  I would say on average most people wait 2-4 years before being accepted into a program (unless you go to a stand alone hygiene school which I would NOT recommend what so ever - very expensive and not known to produce good hygienists).  I applied as soon as I was able and then continued to work on other classes I would need before the program started.  I also took upper division classes to allow me to complete my bachelor degree in dental hygiene.  (This is where the job is going these days...I would highly recommend a B.S degree and not just an A.S degree).  With a B.S. degree you are no longer limited to just clinical hygiene.  Your degree can take you so many places!  You can become a sales rep for well known dental companies, teach in dental hygiene programs, work on the dental hygiene board at local or national levels, the list goes on and on! 

I hope this has answered questions for some of you for HOW to go about becoming a hygienist.  If you have further questions please just comment below and I'll get back to you. 

Good luck future hygienist!