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The career path for dental hygienists is extremely rewarding. Not only is the pay great and the scheduling predictable, but dental hygienists are in demand throughout the country, according to labor statistics. Whether you have an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, you can begin practicing after taking board exams and attaining your license. One thing that many aspiring dental hygienist professionals don’t consider, however, is what they need to do to get into dental hygiene school. Starting out your training as a dental assistant is a great first step. 

Dental Hygiene Programs are Competitive

You’ve probably heard that it can be hard to get into dental school or medical school. And while dental hygiene school may not be as long or as competitive as one of those, it’s still hard to get into. Many dental hygienists apply to multiple programs and even try for a year or two to get into an associate degree or bachelor’s degree program before they’re accepted. Both program designs are extremely competitive when it comes to the applicants, and the number of students admitted. For example, one program may only offer 12-24 dental hygienist spots but have over 200 applicants. Having something that sets you apart will help you make the cut. 

The fact that you have to attend an accredited dental hygiene program means that open spots for students are limited throughout the Oregon and Washington areas. In order to become a hygienist, you must attend a nationally accredited hygiene school. Otherwise, you cannot even sit for a national board exam. 

Being a dental assistant prior to applying to dental hygienist programs can be super helpful when it comes to setting yourself apart from the other applicants. Someone who has worked as a dental assistant is more likely to stand out against other prospective dental hygienists who haven’t already worked alongside a dentist. 

How to Get Into an Accredited Dental Hygiene Program

In order to get into a dental hygiene program, you have to have completed the required prerequisite courses and normally a minimum amount of supervisory time in a dental office. You’ll also take entrance exams to test your dental knowledge of science curriculum and problem-solving. Always be sure to check deadlines and application dates, as they vary from one school to the next. 

Most dental hygiene programs will have a score program where you earn “points” based on experience, test scores, prerequisite classes taken, etc. People who are dental assistants before applying to hygiene programs automatically have an advantage of the hands-on experience of working in a dental practice. This could help them be more competitive when it comes to their hygiene program application overall, especially if they want to apply to specific dental hygiene schools.

Dental Assistants Have More Experience 

Dental hygiene school isn’t easy. Whether you choose to go into a bachelor’s degree program or get your associate degree, all dental hygiene students are held to an extremely high rigor of prerequisite courses, hands-on practice, and clinical training procedures. Going into dental hygiene school with a background as a dental assistant helps you already have a familiarity with the dental office environment, patient care practices, infection control methods, and scheduling appointments. At the same time, people who are becoming a dental hygienists with no experience have that much more of a learning curve to tackle.

Network with Dental Professionals

Dental assistants who work in a dental office will already have professional connections with dentists and dental hygienists. These relationships are extremely important whenever you’re applying to a dental hygiene program because fellow professionals and current dental hygienists can write you reference letters to accompany your application. This can improve your chances of getting into dental hygiene school, especially when someone already in the oral health field has seen you in action. 

Understand Dental Terminology

The first several months of hygiene school include learning new dental terminology and the basics of infection control (not to mention time management.) Patient care is just part of it. Students going into hygiene school with a background in dental assisting have a head start when it comes to learning the basics of dental science and clinical training because they’ve already lived it by working in a dental office. Being a dental assistant before becoming a dental hygienist helps ease the learning curve when you’re suddenly expected to know everything dental hygiene-related. 

Comfortable Preparing Patients for Care

Working in the dental field means that both dental hygienists and dental assistants spend a lot of time with other people and personalities. For dental hygiene students who have never dealt with patients, there can be a lack of confidence or knowing what to do. But someone who is a dental assistant will already know the workflow of seating a patient, prepping them for care, and reviewing their medical history, not to mention tray setup or communication with the supervising dentists and dental hygienists. 

Preparing for Your Associate’s Degree

You can work as a dental hygienist with either an associate degree (2-year program) or a bachelor’s degree (4-year program.) Both dental hygienist programs offer the same clinical training and credentials, aside from their degree level. You can actually complete your training as a dental assistant and in a 2-year dental hygienist program in less time than a 4-year bachelor’s degree. As you complete dental assistant school, you can take your required dental hygienist prerequisite courses, preparing you for application into a dental hygienist school. That way, you can work in a rewarding career path as a dental assistant in the meantime without going into student debt. 

Some dental assistants even choose to work part-time during hygiene school (like on the weekends, during holiday breaks, or evenings for extended-hours offices.) This helps with a predictable income while also maintaining relationships with local dentists, which can come in handy once they graduate. 

Your Step Toward a Dental Hygienist Career

If you’re considering becoming a dental hygienist, it’s worthwhile to prepare to enter the field by becoming a dental assistant first. Our dental assisting program is expedited and affordable, providing you with a fast track to your dental health career. New students begin working with dentists and patients within a matter of weeks. Contact us today to learn more about how to enroll!