How to Become a Dental Hygienist
Complete your high school studies. Most dental hygiene programs require that you possess a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate before applying. While in high school try to take a variety of science classes, such as biology. Studying a foreign language may make it easier to interact with your future patients. 
- In your senior year, sign up to take the ACT or SAT exams. These scores will be used as part of your dental school admissions application.
- Keep your grades as high as you can. Some schools will require a “C” or better average, especially in science classes.
Volunteer at a dental clinic. While you are in high school, see if you can get a position as a volunteer or intern with a local dentist. This will give you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in a dentist’s office. It’s even better if the dentist or one of the hygienists will agree to act as a mentor figure and answer your questions about that career path. 
Apply and attend a 2-year certificate or associate’s program with a technical school if you want to get to work quickly. Look for a program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). This is the most common educational path for future hygienists. You can expect to split your time in the program between classroom studies and clinical experience. 
- After you graduate, you’ll receive an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in dental hygiene.
Obtain a 4-year degree if you want more job options. After high school you can head directly into a Bachelor’s of Applied Science program at a community college or technical college, or you can get your associate’s degree – which is necessary – first. Pursuing a B.A.S degree gives you a chance to explore more varied career opportunities for hygienists, such as lab positions. 
- Some B.A.S programs actually require at least two years of prior education for applicants. Make sure to check with your school of interest prior to applying. 
- B.A.S programs often offer flexible class schedules in order to accommodate people who are currently working full-time as hygienists, but who want to advance their education.
Pursue a master’s degree in the applied sciences if you are interested in research. You can find work in a dental office without an advanced degree. But, if you want a position in program direction or public health, then going after your M.A.S. is a good investment. These programs will often require that you submit a capstone project. They may provide you with additional job placement support as well. 
Be aware of the job outlook and pay scale. Before you start applying for positions, it is a good idea to know what kind of pay and work conditions to expect. Currently, the field of dental hygiene is expected to continue to grow and many hygienists are taking on larger and larger roles in dental offices. The pay varies depending on full or part-time status, but most RDH’s earning an annual salary make more than $70,000 a year. 
Network with your local dental community. Attend conferences and job fairs that will put you in touch with other dental professionals in your area. Contact nearby dental offices and ask them to keep your resume on file in case of future openings. Get a hold of your dental program and see if they have a career center or counselor to help prior graduates. 
- It’s also a good idea to search through online and classified ads.
Land multiple part-time spots as a stepping stone to full-time. When you first get licensed it is likely that you will need to take a number of shifts with different dentists before finding a salaried position. You should expect to work evenings and weekends if this is the case. 
- One of the issues with working part-time is that you’ll often go without benefits.
- Some dental offices will also want you to sell additional ‘products,’ like teeth whitening. You’ll order a commission for these purchases, but it can create some pressure. 
Work as a corporate RDH if you enjoy sales. These RDH’s work for oral health industry businesses and are responsible for pitching and selling their products to the dental community. The more clinical experience you have, the more credibility you’ll have when selling to others. Other corporate RDH positions include product research and corporate education. 
Work as a public health RDH if you want to help others. These RDH positions are usually funded by the government or nonprofits. They aim to educate the general public about dental health and to expand access to treatment. You might work in a clinic setting, a government reservation, or even a school. 
Work as a researcher or instructor in a university setting. These positions are usually reserved for RDHs with advanced degrees and research experience. They may conduct quantitative research involving breaking down dental survey results. Or, qualitative research talking with dental patients about their experiences with a procedure or product.