Dental Hygiene Offers Good Pay, Good Hours and Job Satisfaction
By Laura Raines
A math and science enrichment program that she took in high school allowed Tina Crawford to shadow science and medical professionals and inspired her career path.
“When we visited the Emory School of Dentistry, I was in awe of the white coats and the professional atmosphere. I decided that I wanted to do something in that field,” Crawford said.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia State University and then an associate degree in dental hygiene from Clayton State University.
A dental hygienist since 1992, Crawford was recently named Favorite Hygienist by patients at the Dental One Associates locations in College Park and Marietta, where she works.
“I love what I do and it’s rewarding,” Crawford said. “When I first started, I was a little frightened. When you’re in school there’s always an instructor or a fellow student to answer questions or help you out. But as time went on, I built up my skills and the job just got better and better.”
Crawford had little trouble with the academic side of the dental hygiene program. The clinical courses, however, were more daunting because she knew nothing about teeth or the anatomy of the mouth when she started.
“But the program really prepared me to pass the national exam to become a registered dental hygienist,” she said.
Crawford exams patients’ teeth and gums before performing a general cleaning and other procedures. She takes X-rays, applies sealants and administers antibiotics to fight infections.
She says the job requires good clinical and people skills.
“You’re constantly working with patients,” Crawford said. “You have to be attuned to their needs and fears, and make sure that you’re taking good care of them.
“You also have to be a go-getter, and someone who can work without supervision, because you develop your own practice. I have patients who have watched my son grow up, and I know their kids. It’s like an extended family.”
Dental hygiene is one of the nation’s fastest-growing occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment is predicted to grow by 36 percent through 2018, based on population growth and a greater emphasis on preventive dental care. The occupation is considered stable because people always need dental care.
Median salaries for experienced hygienists range from $55,220 to $78,990, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Getting into a program can be competitive. The cooperative associate of applied science dental hygiene degree offered by Gainesville State College and Lanier Technical College accepts 15 only out of roughly 50 applicants each year.
Before applying, students must complete 43 credit hours of core courses and science prerequisites, which can take 18 months to two years. At least 20 of those hours must be taken at Gainesville State College. Students are accepted based on grade point average in prerequisite courses, dental office experience (a requirement) and an interview.
“You have to be personable in this job and have good communication skills because you’re dealing directly with patients,” said Andrew Thomas, dental hygienist advisor at Gainesville State College. “We’re looking for people with a professional mindset who know this is the field they want and can present themselves in a positive way.”
Students take the clinical portion of the classes and training (seven quarters) at Lanier Tech. Courses include pharmacology, anatomy of the mouth and teeth, nutrition, dental materials, radiology, periodontology and oral pathology.
“Most of the academic course work is completed in the first year. The second-year students are practicing their clinical skills by working on patients in the community,” Thomas said.
Graduates are prepared to sit for the national board exam to become registered dental hygienists.
“About half of our students are traditional-age college students and the other half are older students who have decided to come back to school,” Thomas said. “Those working in the field usually have a passion for it. They like the relationships they establish with patients and knowing that they are making a difference.”
The cost of the program is about $90 per credit hour at Gainesville State. The total estimated cost for tuition, fees, equipment and uniforms at Lanier Tech is $9,835. Students may apply for the HOPE scholarship and other forms of financial aid.
For information, call the advising center at Gainesville State College (678-717-379), send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.laniertech.edu. The deadline for admission is March 15 for the class starting in fall 2011.
Athens Technical College, Clayton State University, Georgia Perimeter College and Darton College also have dental hygiene programs.
To find your local DCA-affiliated practice, click here.
Founded in 1991, DCA is one of the largest multi-branded dental support organizations in the U.S. with more than 265 affiliated practices in 15 states. DCA-affiliated practices provide patients with a wide range of dental services including general dentistry, endodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, and periodontics. DCA provides dentists with clinical autonomy, career satisfaction, and growth opportunities by reducing day-to-day administrative responsibilities so they can focus on providing the best clinical care to each patient.
I get to practice dentistry my way. I went into a practice with a mentor doctor, so I can get advice if there’s a case I haven’t seen before. Plus, there’s a lot of room for growth. The plan is for me to become the senior doctor at my own office.