Dental hygienists are in demand and on the go. As one of the fastest growing careers in the country, dental hygienists may find opportunities in dental facilities, nursing homes, clinics and schools.
“The type of person who does well in this job is someone who cares about people,” said Phebe Blitz, who oversees the dental hygienist program at Mesa Community College, in its second year.
“People go into this job because it pays well and it is flexible. You can work one day a week or you can work full-time. People like that.”
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook – published by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics – the dental hygienist fi eld is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through the year 2014. Job prospects are “excellent.”
In Arizona, this is especially true, Blitz said.
“There are a lot more of us so there is a need for more hygienists,” she said. “There’s still half of the population that doesn’t have access to dental care so we need more dentists and hygienists.”
In Arizona, hygienists who are affiliated with a dentist can in essence run their own practice to meet the needs of young people.
“We hope that gets more care to children,” she said.
But it does take some work to enter the field – with education ranging from two to four years. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association Web site reports classwork may include dental anatomy, head and neck anatomy, oral pathology, radiography, periodontology, community dental health, medical and dental emergencies and patient management.
Dental hygienists work with patients to prevent oral health issues. They are responsible for cleanings, patient education and diagnostic tests. They work alongside a dentist, providing the information needed to help with diagnoses.
More than half of the people in the field nationwide work part-time, according to the handbook. Some work in multiple offices and nine out of 10 who work full-time receive dental benefits.
Three programs in the Valley offer entry-level education in this field: Rio Salado College, Mesa Community College and Phoenix College, according to the ADHA Web site. Northern Arizona University offers a bachelor’s degree.
Students at MCC’s program range in age from about 22 to the mid-40s, Blitz said.
“Most of the students in our school have been working in the dental office and they want to go to the next level, expand their career,” she said.
“Median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $28.05 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $22.72 and $33.82 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18.05, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $40.70 an hour,” the Web site reports.
Blitz was exposed to the career in her 20s through her brother, who was a dentist. She said it’s taken her from a dental practice to clinical education, administration, teaching and consulting. She even worked in New Zealand teaching the community about the field.
“It’s allowed me to do a lot of things I hadn’t thought about when I was 22,” she said. “I enjoy working with people. My career has taken me all over the world.”