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How to Become a Dental Hygiene Instructor: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a dental hygiene instructor. Research the education and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in dental hygiene instruction.

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Do I Want to Be a Dental Hygienist Instructor?

Dental hygienist instructors train new hygienists at universities, community colleges and other technical academic institutions. In classrooms and lab settings they instruct students in techniques to remove stains and tartar, apply sealants and fluorides, take and develop x rays, teach oral care to patients and track patient care and treatment plans. Some classes might be offered during evenings and weekends.

Job Requirements

Instructors usually have at least a bachelor's degree as well as several years of professional experience. In addition to educational requirements, instructors will need a license to practice dental hygiene in the state where they work. The table below lists the core requirements for becoming a dental hygiene instructor:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Varies; bachelor's degree common*
Degree Field Dental hygiene**
Experience Varies; several years of related professional clinical, dental hygiene or teaching experience common*
Licensing Dental hygiene instructors must hold a valid dental hygienist license*
Key Skills Strong writing, communication and instruction skills**
Computer Skills Ability to use instructional software***

Sources: *Job postings from employers (November 2012), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Dental hygiene instructors typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree, according to dental hygiene instructor postings online in November 2012. Aspiring instructors might consider majoring in dental hygiene. Before being admitted to a dental hygiene program, which often begins in a student's junior year, some 4-year schools require incoming students to have previously passed college-level courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology and nutrition. Once enrolled, students will receive instruction in such courses as oral anatomy, periodontics and pain management.

Success Tip:

  • Research licensure requirements. State licensing commissions issue dental hygienist licenses and can provide accurate information to aspiring hygienists on licensure requirements.

Step 2: Become Licensed as a Dental Hygienist

Anyone who plans to work as a dental hygiene instructor must first gain experience as a dental hygienist. To be employed as a dental hygienist, an applicant needs to be licensed by the appropriate state or regional board. Most states require individuals to have graduated from a dental hygienist program recognized by the Commission on Dental Accreditation before taking written and clinical exams; additionally, applicants need to show proof that they're CPR certified. The American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the written component, which all states accept, and some states also may require or accept different exams.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Dental hygienists can find part-time work with multiple dentists in different offices. Since hygienists can only practice in states in which they've been licensed, they're somewhat limited in where they can apply for jobs. The November 2012 job postings indicated that employers sought out dental hygiene instructors who had several years of recent experience as a dental hygienist. Additionally, some employers preferred applicants with a background in education or teaching and prior experience in academic advisement.

Success Tips:

  • Join a professional association. Participation in a professional association, such as the American Dental Hygienists Association, and becoming active in a local chapter is a great way to network and learn about job leads.
  • Pursue additional education if necessary. Employers may prefer applicants with a master's degree in a related field, such as health education. Individuals who plan to work and go to school at the same time may want to look into schools that have flexible course schedules or online learning options.
  • Keep dental hygienist license current. Requirements vary by state, but common requirements for license renewal include completing continuing education hours and paying a fee every few years.
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