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Hi, i qualified as a Dental Hygienist in 2002 at the Burkhart School of Dental Hygiene and Therapy in London.
Dental Hygienists have a very important role within the dental team, our philosphy is to prevent disease and promote health.
This includes teaching people of all ages how to prevent gum disease and tooth decay and treating gum disease through scaling the teeth above and below gum level.
To be a dental hygienist you need to be, firstly and most importantly, enthusiastic about the job and not just be in it for the money!(we'll come to that later). You must also be a good team player and be confident with talking to people as you ususally will work on your own. You should also have good manual dexterity as you wil be working in the small area that is the patients mouth. Overall you should be friendly and be able to be sympathetic to nervous patients.
For most Dental schools the qualification you work towards is the Diploma in Dental Hygiene on a course that takes 2 years. However Manchester, Dundee and Portsmouth now offer a full time 3 year degree course for the BSc OHS (after which you are qualified as a therapist aswell as hygienist). The course also includes an Orthodontic module.
To be able to apply to be a dental hygienist you need to be aged 18 plus and have either:
a-5 GCSES/O levels and the National Certificate for Dental Nurses or
b-5 GCSES/O levels and 2 A levels(1 preferably in a science)
I honestly think it is preferable for applicants to have worked in dentistry previously as the course is very intensive, so if you have no prior dental knowledge you are at a disadvantage.
The lack of places at hygiene schools means that there is a lot of competition to get on a course. My school of hygiene only has 14 places for students, but had over 400 applicants. So, when you apply for a place and recieve an application form you need to try and be as impressive as possible! That means trying to do as many dental nurse courses as possible such as sedation training, orthodontics, etc. Another tip for application is to show that you have good dexterity skills such as being arty, etc.
Training to be a dental hygienist is, however, no bed of roses. All courses are full time 5 days a week (approx 9-5) with lots of homework! So obviously, you are not able to hold down a normal full time job whilst on the course. However there are bursaries, which are means tested on your personal situation, and which you DO NOT pay back. You are also able to get student loans for the course, which you start repaying 1 year after qualifying and at only 9% of your monthly salary. Plus the NHS pay for your course, which costs them approx £18,000 per year.
I also had a Saturday job working as receptionist at a dental surgery which helped with money, but was hard going after a 5 day week!
The training consists of both clinical learning and tutorials. You learn a varied syllabus from dental anatomy, human physiology, pharmacology, diet and nutrition, all about periodontal disease and prevention, radiography(in which you get a seperate qualification), oral health, plus lots more. Plus there is all the clinical training such a show to use various scaling instruments, oral hygiene techniques, how to deal with patients, local analgesia, how to place temporary fillings and crowns, smoothing of fillings, fluoride applications, etc.
The course is very intensive and hard work, there is alot to learn and my school was constantly setting us tests! So you need to be able to dedicate time at home for studying too.
However, it is all worth the effort. You do get paid well as a dental hygienist, you can earn anything from £25,000 to £50,000 a year in a full time position.
The other benefits are that you work in your own surgery room, sometimes with a dedicated dental nurse. So you are not constantly bossed around by a dentist! I also enjoy the people aspect of the job, meeting new and different people and also building up relationships with patients. It's also a very rewarding job, especially when you turn a patient from having an unhealthy mouth with risk of tooth loss to a healthy stable oral cavity.Plus you also can teach people about how to quit smoking and give them support.
Another benefit is you can work part time which is particulary handy is you have or want children. Also you are able to listen to the radio all day!
There are some disadvantages, these vary from the risk of Repetitive strain injury(high risk if you don't take precautions), risk of disease but again only if you are not careful and don't follow procedures such as wearing goggles,etc), dealing with unpleasant patients(i never let it get to me though!) and some people find they get bored of the job but i personally don't have that problem as i enjoy the company of the patients!
So, alot to take in, but it's a job i very much enjoy and hope to continue to do so in future!