Ongoing research shows a direct correlation between oral health and general health, and these findings are spurring the demand for preventative dental services, which often are provided by dental hygienists.
As the number of dental offices multiplies and dental and medical technologies advance, the need for qualified dental hygienists will continue to rise. Local dental offices, such as Cypress-based at Sandalwood Family Dental, rely on their dental hygienists to make patients feel comfortable and confident during their visits.
“Dental hygienists are the initial point of contact with all our patients on a daily basis. They take all the necessary X-rays, conduct the first overall exams of the patient’s teeth, use the internal cameras and educate the patient on issues they may see with their teeth,” said Camilla Ohl, office manager for Sandalwood Family Dental.
“During normal examinations, dental hygienists will look at a patient’s gums and perio-chart for information for the doctor. Then, they’ll determine what the patient’s daily habits are – their diet and preferences for drinks. Whether it’s soda, tea or coffee, the dental hygienist will look at the staining qualities of those drinks and make recommendations to the patient. They’ll also show the patient the proper way to brush and educate them about gum disease, the correlation of that to heart disease and diabetes, and so on. Once that’s taken care of, dental hygienists will let the doctor know what they have gathered so the doctor can do their job.”
Those considering a career as a dental hygienist must be a graduate of a dental school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association (CODA) with a degree in dentistry or a degree or certificate in dental hygiene, or a graduate of a CODA-accredited school or college of dental hygiene with a degree in dental hygiene.
“To become a dental hygienist in the state of Texas, you must have also taken and passed the examination for dental hygienists given by the American Dental Association Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations; taken and passed the appropriate clinical examination administered by a regional examining board designated by the board; completed a current course in basic life support; and taken and passed the jurisprudence assessment administered by the board or an entity designated by the board within one year prior to application,” said Jayne McWherter, associate professor and dental hygiene program director in the department of periodontics and dental hygiene at UTHealth School of Dentistry.
Ohl said that in Texas, dental hygienists also must work under a licensed dentist and do not administer their own anesthesia. Dental hygienists also must maintain the required continuing-education hours, which are often provided by a dental hygienist’s employer.
The need for these qualified dental hygienists is mounting; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of dental hygienists will grow by 38 percent from 2010 to 2020.
“There’s a huge demand in Houston for dental hygienists. There are so many dental practices that are opening here, and pretty much all dentists need dental hygienists,” Ohl said. “Dental hygienists are the engine of the office because all patients have to go through a hygiene department to be able to be seen by the doctor.”
Ohl said the specific qualities each practice seeks in a dental hygienist candidate varies, but most do look for individuals who seem to sincerely enjoy what they do and are good at it.
“You want someone who’s really excited about what they do. They’re very talkative and like to inform and educate their patients. You can tell that in the interview process,” Ohl said.