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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Choosing the Right Dental Hygiene Program: Factors to Consider as You Prepare for Your Dental Hygiene Career

September 20, 2023

Prepare for Your Dental Hygiene CareerFrom improving community health to creating a comfortable and supportive environment, dental hygiene provides ample opportunities to make a difference. With proper training, you will be equipped to provide exceptional care for a wide range of patients.

First and foremost, you need to take a close look at available dental hygiene programs and determine where you’ll obtain your dental hygiene degree. Keep reading to discover the many factors that will influence this crucial decision.

Why Is Choosing the Right Dental Hygiene School So Important?

Your dental hygiene education determines how you prepare for everything from the national board exam to your eventual career as a dental hygienist. This decision could set you up not only for a wonderful experience as a student but may also, determine how prepared you are to ace board exams and start strong as a full-fledged dental hygienist.

Accreditation Matters

Institutional Accreditation instills confidence that the school you attend has met rigorous standards for academic quality and administrative capability. In California, the predominant institutional accreditors are the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSUCU) and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

Dental Hygiene programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) are the most direct way to pursue a career as a Dental Hygienist. CODA is recognized by the US Department of Education and widely respected as an authority on Dental Accreditation.

What Will the Day-to-Day Look Like?

Once you feel confident that your preferred dental hygiene school is reputable, it’s time to consider what  life will look like as a student. Where and when will you take classes? How will you secure sufficient hands-on experience? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the academic experience — and how you can find balance.

Prep for the Admission Process

The admission process looks a bit different depending on the Dental Hygiene or degree program in question, but a few essentials will be ubiquitous:

  • High school diploma
  • Successful completion of prerequisite courses
  • Interview with Dental Hygiene faculty or program director
  • Entrance assessment

Find Your Balance Between School and Life

Working students often turn to dental hygiene programs as a path toward a more stable and rewarding career. Whether you’re currently employed or plan to dedicate all your time and attention to your dental hygiene program, you will want to make school-life balance a top priority. This means enrolling in a program that will allow you to enjoy your life outside of school.

Prioritizing this early on increases the likelihood that you’ll continue to seek balance once you’ve found your first job as a dental hygienist. Take a close look at the catalog to determine the courseload for each term — and don’t hesitate to seek further insight from advisors.

Dental Hygiene Program Structure

Every dental hygiene program is structured a bit differently, but most include the same basic elements:

  • Foundational coursework. This covers a variety of topics, ranging from anatomy to radiology, pharmacology and even patient management.
  • Clinical and lab experiences. Hands-on training should be a core component of your program. Following an introductory course, you’ll participate in a variety of clinical seminars.

These offerings are provided during each term, which may total between 14 and 18 credits. Upon graduating with your Associate of Science, you can complete a bridge program that includes additional, in-depth coursework. This will prepare you to obtain your Bachelor of Science, which will open an even wider range of career opportunities.

How Is the Workload?

Every dental hygiene program will involve a considerable workload. After all, you need to cover a lot of material to be fully prepared for the rigors of this career. However, it is possible to achieve a sense of balance.

As you assess the workload, take a close look at how long the program in question will take to complete, how many courses you will be expected to take along the way and the role clinical seminars will play in this process. Remember: the long hours you put into your training will more than pay off down the road.

Find a Mentor

Your mentor can be an invaluable resource when the going gets tough. After all, you are bound to run into significant challenges on your path to becoming a dental hygienist — but your mentor can keep you inspired and motivated. This person has been through the classes, the clinicals and the exams — and they know just how sweet the rewards of personal and professional satisfaction can be.

Potential mentors can be found everywhere. Career Services is a great place to start. Advisors can work with you to find a mentor with relevant experience and a desire to help others. This person can meet with you regularly to discuss your progress, brainstorm solutions for upcoming challenges and, of course, celebrate your successes.

Hands-On Training and Clinicals

Traditional coursework can be helpful, but rote memorization and endless readings will only take you so far. Eventually, you will need to take your nose out of the books and apply everything you’ve learned through case studies or even in a clinical environment. This is where hands-on training comes into play.

Why Is Hands-On Training Important?

Hands-on training gives you a valuable opportunity to practice critical skills under the guidance and supervision of an industry expert. It would be a lot more intimidating to get thrown into the dental environment without extensive preparation. Completed in the context of everyday lectures and coursework, this training also allows you to put recently explored concepts into action.

Finding the Right Externship

The simple act of participating in a clinical experience is the most vital, but where and how you seek hands-on training also matters. The right program will expose you to clinical environments that echo the types of places or situations where you will eventually work as a dental hygienist. Community-based extramural experiences can be especially insightful.

Prepare for Exams

The National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) is one of the most significant hurdles on the way to becoming a dental hygienist. Administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE), this exam verifies that you have a sufficient understanding of critical science topics, along with the ability to put these concepts into practice when it matters most.

In addition to your national board exam, you’ll also need to take a state or regional exam to secure licensure as a dental hygienist. Top options in California include clinical exams from the Central Regional Dental Testing Service (CRDTS) and the Western Regional Examining Board (WREB).

While all the courses you take as a dental hygiene student will provide valuable preparation, there’s no substitute for taking a class that is exclusively dedicated to review. This should cover the full gamut of dental hygiene theory so you feel prepared to ace your board exams.

SJVCs Dental Hygiene Program

Are you excited about the possibility of making your mark as a dental hygienist? It will take a lot of hard work and dedication, but with sufficient support and guidance, you can absolutely achieve this wonderful career goal.

Begin by entering the Dental Hygiene program at San Joaquin Valley College. We provide the opportunity to get your Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene, as well as a bridge program that will help you progress toward earning your Bachelor of Science. Get in touch today to learn more.

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