How’d you get into that?!: Dental Hygienist

There are MANY directions someone can choose when pursuing a degree in the medical field. Surgeon, Pediatric Doctor or Nurse,  Registered Nurse, and many more.  I think a lot of people are drawn to these types of careers because they involve helping people, pay well, and are interesting topics to learn about. This is no exception for our next “How’d you get into that?!” career, Dental Hygienist. This is a great career option for any of you out there! In 2014 the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average annual income of a Dental Hygienist in Minnesota was $70,390 which breaks down to $33.84 per hour. That’s the AVERAGE, in California the average income per year is $94,370! That’s some serious cash , or as Doug would maybe say “That’s, like, 10,486 Chipotle Burritos!” Our interviewee is an Alumni of OUR Upward Bound program and even worked as a summer intern! Please welcome Paul Nguyen!

1.)     Why don’t we start off with the basics. Tell us a little about yourself. ( Where are you from? How old you are? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc.).

Well my name is Paul, I’m 25 years old and I use to be in the Upward Bound program. I’m currently a RDH, or registered dental hygienist, and have been working for 1 year so far after I graduated from the U of MN dental school with my BS in dental hygiene.

2.)    Why did you want to get into your job? Was it something you’ve always known you wanted to do? If not, what lead you to it?

I’ve always known I wanted to do something which involved me talking to people and helping them, which lead me to this job. Things that also lead me to this was being in the Upward Bound program. It  helped me explore what career options might best fit my personality and taking the Myers-Briggs test.

(Kyle’s note: For those who don’t know, the Myers-Briggs test is a personality test similar to strengthsquest. If any of you would like to learn more about it contact your advisor)

3.)    Can you define for us what a Dental Hygienist does?

A dental hygienist is a licensed dental professional that are in the primary health care professional who works independently or alongside dentists and other dental professionals in a team to provide full oral health care. We focus on preventing and treating oral diseases-both to protect teeth and gums, and also to educate patients  about oral hygiene  to keep their teeth as long as possible along with ways to help them protect patients total health too.We do duties like perform oral health care assessments that include the review of patient’s’ health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, and evaluation of gum disease / health; expose, process, and interpret dental radiographs (x-rays); remove plaque and calculus (“tartar”) from above and below the gumline using dental instruments; apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth; administer local anesthetic and / or nitrous oxide analgesia; educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums; counsel patients about plaque control and developing individualized at-home oral hygiene programs; administer smoking cessation programs; and counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health.

4.)    How did you become a Dental Hygienist? Do you need a college degree? Are there certifications required? If you do go to college, what should you study?

I needed a college degree for this, which i got a 4 year degree in. Other colleges offer a 2 year. There are about 3 certifications required to practice once you graduate. I would say the area of study you should study is in the biology area.

5.)    How do you find work in your field? Are there different types of jobs within the field? What is the job market like?

You can find work in this area by searching on craigslist or other websites, talking to people who are in the field such as your colleagues and teachers. There are different types of jobs within being a dental hygienist, you can become a researcher, teacher, working with dental companies or the traditional work in the office setting. As of now the market is kinda of saturated, with a lot of dental hygiene school in Minnesota which doesn’t match the amount of jobs open for it, but if you know you want to do it then go for it!

6.)    What would the average work day look like?

Come to work, look at your schedule before the day starts, talk to your coworkers and see if anything needs to be address beforehand, see roughly 6-9 patients daily and of course have lunch in between, and work on notes for each patient of what went on in the appointment.

7.)    What is the work/life balance like? (Do you work super late nights, odd hours, and weekends?)

Your schedule would usually depend around your doctor’s schedule, however it usually would  be Monday through  Friday and sometimes Saturday.

8.)    What’s the best part of your career?

I would say meeting new people each and everyday.  Helping them prevent oral diseases to keep their teeth and gums healthy so they are free from pain and can smile.

9.)    What’s the worst part?

Having to deal with hard patients and they can sometimes take their frustration out on you. So you have to be as calm as possible and make sure their rudeness doesn’t affect the rest of your day.

10.) What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your job?

Having people just think were only teeth cleaners or dental assistants.

11.) Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to add?

I would say getting in the dental hygiene program is pretty competitive so study hard. Coursework can be overwhelming sometimes in the program, and have good dexterity.

Some great advice there everyone! If you’re interested in learning more about this career feel free to talk to you advisor as we might be able to put you in contact with Paul. If you aren’t sure what you want to do for a career, know that it’s OK, it’s normal, and there is no rush! Explore everything and keep an open mind!


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