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Dental Hygienist

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p185-1-jpgExplore Being a Dental Hygienist with Sue Kiernan

See also the BLS page on Dental Hygienists!

cz:Briefly describe your job.

I am a registered Dental Hygienist. My duties include performing general dental prophylaxis (cleanings), diagnostic x-rays, fluoride treatments, sealants, root planing and curretage and teaching proper home care techniques.

cz:How long have you been working in this field?

33 years total - 10 1/2 years at my present job.

cz:When and how did you decide to choose this career?

I accidentally fell into this career. I was in my junior year as an education major when I went for my 6 month cleaning. I was questioning my career choice and the hygienist got me interested in Dental Hygiene. She explained that as a hygienist you could pick where and when you worked. There are many hygienists who choose to work in many different countries around the world.

cz:What education and training did you receive before entering your field?

I had an AA degree and was working on my bachelor’s degree when I changed majors. The Dental Hygiene program I attended was two years and I graduated with an AS degree in Dental hygiene. Before I could begin to work I had to take a National Board exam and pass a practical exam as well in order to be licensed by the state of Florida. It is also necessary to complete continuing education hours every two years in order to maintain your license. Currently it is 24 hours plus certification in CPR.

cz:How did you begin OR what was your first job in the field?

I worked as a dental assistant for a few months while waiting for the results of my National Board and practical exam. I then worked for a practice in Fort Lauderdale as a Hygienist after receiving my license.

cz:Describe a typical day on the job?

During a typical day I see 9 patients. The first thing I do is update their health history to see if there are any changes that could impact our treatment. Many times patients have had health changes that require them to discontinue medications or take antibiotics prior to work. It's important we cover that information because very often they are not aware of the dangers to their health if we don't take these precautions. After the health update I will take x-rays if needed (generally once a year) and develop and mount them. Then I do an oral cancer exam of the head and neck. When that is completed I do the cleaning which usually consists of scaling and polishing of the teeth. I discuss with the patient any areas that need improvement and give them instructions on how to properly maintain the health of their mouth. The doctor then does his exam and I dismiss the patient and thoroughly clean the operatory and set up for the next patient.

cz:What do you like most about what you do?

I love the interaction with all different types of people. I have developed some wonderful relationships with many patients.

cz:What has been the most rewarding experience so far in your career?

I'd have to say it is seeing patients whose dental health is compromised listen to my suggestions for improving their oral health. It is so satisfying to see a patient after 3 or 6 months whose dental health has improved dramatically because they chose to follow my instructions. The difference can be amazing!

cz:What do you like least about your job?

Some days it seems every patient is a dental phobic. It takes a lot of energy to put them at ease. Fortunately, that doesn't happen all the time!

cz:What is the biggest challenge for you in this job?

I'd have to say it is getting people to understand how important dental health is to your overall body health. They are very connected. Many people don't realize that keeping a healthy dentition can add years to your life. If your teeth are not healthy it impacts your ability to eat healthy foods and therefore can seriously impact longevity.

cz:What would you like to say to someone considering this career?

There is an increasing demand for Dental Hygienists. I recently saw it listed as one of the top 10 jobs on Collegeboard.com. You have flexibility - many hygienists work in several offices. You can pick the days and often have a say in the hours you work.

cz:What are the most important personal and professional skills necessary to succeed in your field?

As a caregiver I feel people skills are as important as your clinical skills. It is important to really listen to people. You have to be able to put people at ease if you want to communicate and have them hear and implement your suggestions. You also have to be able to leave your troubles at the door. Patients want your undivided attention and to be made to feel special.

cz:What would a person interested in entering this field have to do to get a good job in it?

Complete college and get licensed. Sometimes it takes a while to find a good "fit" for a hygienist and dental office but once you find one it can be very rewarding.

cz:What could someone who is interested in this field do to learn more about it right now?

My first suggestion would be to talk to his/her own dentist and hygienist. Then I would contact the local dental hygiene schools and request information. They can also get information at the American Dental Hygienists' Association web site - www.adha.org.

cz:Is there any general advice you would like to offer to students on making a career choice or on work life itself?

It is so much easier to go to work every day when you enjoy your career. No one really knows for sure that they will love their choice but an education is never a waste. If you find you don't like what you've chosen it's never to late to change.

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