5 Steps to Becoming a Pediatric Dental Hygienist

Pediatric dental hygienists typically work at a dentist's office and work directly with children and young adults. Learn about their job duties, and review the steps to take to become a pediatric dental hygienist. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Pediatric Dental Hygienist?

A pediatric dental hygienist encourages oral hygiene and teaches proper dental care to children, adolescents and young adult dental patients. If you decide to become a pediatric dental hygienist, you will use dental tools to clean and polish children's teeth. You may also take x-rays, look for disease and abnormalities, teach patients how to properly brush their teeth and apply treatments that aid in cavity prevention. In some states you may be allowed to perform additional duties, such as applying fillings, administering anesthetics and removing sutures.

Step 1: Choose a Program

A few different educational paths are available to help you become a pediatric dental hygienist. Most programs result in an associate's degree, but certificate and bachelor's degree programs are also options. If you would like to work in a private dental office, a certificate or associate's degree should be sufficient. However, if you would like to conduct research, teach or work for a public health program, you may need a bachelor's degree. You may also want to consider earning a master's degree for these types of positions.

Step 2: Complete a Dental Hygienist Program

Once you have decided which focus you prefer, you may enroll in the appropriate type of dental hygiene program. Certificate and associate's degree programs typically take two years to complete, while bachelor's degree programs typically take four. Required courses may include anatomy, physiology, nutrition and pharmacology. Other topics may include pathology, microbiology, ethics and clinical experience. Some programs also require research experience and an internship.

Step 3: Earn a License

After graduating from an accredited dental hygiene program, you must become licensed in your state. Most states require that you pass a written examination administered by the American Dental Association's (ADA) Commission on National Dental Examinations, as well as a regional clinical exam. You may also be required to pass an exam that covers laws that affect the practice of dental hygiene.

Step 4: Get a Job With a Pediatric Dentist

Once you are a licensed dental hygienist, you may seek employment with a pediatric dentist. You may find employment with a private practice, or in hospitals or outpatient centers, depending on your location. You may then gain dental hygiene experience working exclusively with pediatric patients.

Step 5: Consider Earning an Advanced Degree

If you would like to advance your career and work in academia, the oral health products industry, research or public health, you may want to consider earning a master's degree. Many master's degree programs offer areas of specialization, such as management, education, marketing, research and public health. If you are interested in career advancement but would like to continue working in clinical practice, you may also want to consider going to dental school and becoming a dentist.

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