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Dental Hygienists Make People Smile

A healthy, clean smile not only makes a good impression on others, it makes us feel good about ourselves. Paying regular attention to our dental hygiene is the first line of defense in maintaining that bright smile.
When we visit the dentist, it"s not necessarily the doctor we see. At many appointments, we are under the care of the dental hygienist, who cleans teeth, examines gums and teeth for any abnormalities, and teaches patients how to practice good oral hygiene. This can be a rewarding career for someone interested in providing health-related services to others.
The training you"ll need
There are close to 300 dental hygiene programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Most require a high school diploma and college entrance test scores; some also require applicants to have completed one year of college. 
In most cases, completing the program leads to an associate"s degree. Some also offers a certificate and bachelor"s or master"s degrees. A certificate or associate"s degree is the usual requirement to work in a private dental office; the advanced degrees are necessary for teaching, research, or clinical practice in school and public health programs.
Throughout a dental hygiene program, students should expect to study anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition, radiography, pathology and behavioral sciences. Additional specialized courses include dental materials, clinical dental hygiene, and the study of tissue structure and gum diseases. The program will include classroom instruction as well as lab and clinical studies.
Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed. This requires passing both the state"s clinical exam and a written exam administered by the American Dental Association"s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations.
On the job
In addition to cleaning and examining teeth, dental hygienists take x-rays of patients" mouths, and may perform such procedures as root planning or applying fluorides and sealants to teeth. Their work requires the use of various tools, mainly hand-held rotary and ultrasonic instruments that are used to clean and polish teeth.
Some states allow hygienists to administer anesthetics; others permit them to carve filling materials and dressings, and remove sutures. In some cases, hygienists make diagnoses or prepare diagnostic tests for the dentist to interpret.
A bright future
As the population continues to grow, there is a greater need for preventive dental care. Schools require children to have regular dental check-ups; health-conscious baby boomers make dental care part of their annual medical maintenance; and more elderly people seek care for their teeth and gums longer than in previous generations.
Given the number of people who require their services, dental hygienists should be smiling for a long time to come.

By Michelle Simmons
Get Dental Hygienist Jobs, Contributing Editor

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