11 Exciting Dental Hygienist Career Opportunities
When I was in dental hygiene school (which, face it, was so long ago I don’t even want to mention the year) I remember one of my instructors telling us that the average “hygiene burnout” would happen about 10 years into our careers. It seemed that most of us were expected to make it to about the decade mark before, one by one, we started walking away from what it was we were there to learn.
It wasn’t that it didn’t pay well; we all know that working as a dental hygienist means a decent income, regardless of where you live. Especially for someone like me who was graduating hygiene school at the ripe young age of 21. Why would somebody walk away from such decent pay, especially considering you can enter the field in some cases with as little as an Associate’s degree?
The musculoskeletal pain. The repetition. The limited room for career growth. But mostly the musculoskeletal pain. Let’s face it. Hygienists are frequently ranked #1 when it comes to job-related injuries.
Sadly, most of us still love what we do (at least at the core.) The thought of walking away from our patients, relationships, and oral health altogether can actually be a bit of a culture shock if we’re point-blank walking out of the field.
Fortunately, there are other career alternatives and opportunities for dental hygienists out there. I’m a living example; although I “work” in dentistry 40 hours a week, I haven’t put my hands in anyone’s mouths (other than my kids for makeshift orthodontic repairs) in over five years. If you get creative and think outside of the box, you can actually have just as great of a career (and income) finding an alternative to dental hygiene.
Hygienist Careers that Require Additional Training
Depending on how far you want to go with taking your career to the next level, you might consider going back to school or even moving to another state. Your location alone could be the determining factor as to whether you want to tackle one of these next-level careers for dental hygienists:
Dental Therapist / Dental Hygiene Practitioner / Dental Hygiene Therapist
Mid-level dental hygiene practitioners are a norm in places like Australia. They’re essentially the nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant of the dental world. And surprise - they’re starting to become a reality in certain US states! Their clinical abilities exceed traditional dental hygiene, but do not encompass all that a dentist is licensed to provide. For instance, a hygiene practitioner may be allowed to extract teeth or place certain types of dental fillings. Mid-level dental practitioners are currently allowed in Connecticut, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Michigan, Vermont, Maine, and Minnesota with pilot programs in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. (If I’m missing any, please let me know!)
Federal or Military Hygienist
A lot of people love the idea of being in the military. Dental hygienists are needed in the Army, Navy, and Air Force too! As an active member of the military, you have access to included training and healthcare, along with the opportunity to see new places.
Are you dying to expand your skillset? Do you feel like your hygiene license is too restrictive? In states like Texas, where RDHs aren’t even allowed to administer local anesthetic, it’s easy to relate (can you tell I’m still slightly bitter about the subject?) You always have the option of going back to college to become a DDS or DMD and open up your own practice!
8 Alternative Careers for Dental Hygienists
Whether you have a 2 or 4-year degree, there’s a lot more you can do with your dental hygiene license than just clinical hygiene. Here are 8 alternatives fields to consider, if you’re thinking about branching out (or simply feel forced to leave because of the musculoskeletal pain.)
1. Dental Influencer
Do you have a fairly large social media presence? Or the ability to build one? Then you might have what it takes to become a dental influencer. Hygienists like Whitney (aka “Teeth Talk Girl”) bring dental hygiene straight into their followers’ homes.
2. Consultant or Sales Representative
If you have no trouble striking up conversations with others (something most of us hygienists are gifted with) then a career in consulting or working as a product rep may seem like one of the most natural shifts you can make in your career. Many companies offer in-house training for their new hires.
3. Dental Hygiene Instructor
Most dental hygiene schools require a Bachelor’s degree with at least a set minimum number of graduate hours (if not a full Masters) to become an instructor.
Do you absolutely love science? Consider going into research with a local university or dental product manufacturer.
5. Dental Practice Management
A lot of dental office managers come from backgrounds in chairside assisting or working in the reception area. Organizations like AADOM offer access to training courses (and even a fellowship program) to become successful in this leadership role.
6. Remote Insurance Verification and Claims Support
Know the ins and outs of dental insurance? Companies like Gold Virtual Assistant are founded by experienced dental professionals and provide remote claims support to practices across the country. You could run your own business!
7. Working for an Insurance Carrier
Consider working behind the desk at an insurance carrier’s headquarters, reviewing dental claims, pre-approvals, and the like.
I’ve run across ex-dental hygienists who now work as OSHA inspectors. And if you think about it, someone with a dental hygiene background would be exceptionally skilled for handling issues related to sterilization, radiation, and other dental equipment.
When You Need to “Scratch the Itch”
As long as you’re keeping up with your license and continuing education requirements, you always have the added option of temping on an as-needed basis. Maybe you want to set a little extra money aside for an upcoming vacation, or if you’re self-employed but it’s a slow week you can always pick up 1-2 days as needed. Temping helps you keep your skills fresh and it also vouches for commitment to the field of dental hygiene.
Whether you have an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or even a Master’s degree in Dental Hygiene, your unique education and training opens up a plethora of doors other than being “just” a clinical hygienist. As with other seasons of life, our careers in dental hygiene can also take new forms. If you’re looking for an alternative to full time hygiene, definitely consider one of these popular (and realistic!) options.