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Myth busters: Dental hygiene school is the road to happiness

Jan. 21, 2022
Dental hygiene school is a huge decision. Look at the pros and cons of your current career and of going back to school before making the move. Hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you already have.

You’ve got to go to dental hygiene school if you want to make any money and be happy. Right? Wrong!!

Hygiene school can be great, but it’s not for everyone. Don’t feel like you’re not valuable if you don’t have a hygiene degree.

When I hear dental assistants talk about wanting to go to hygiene school, I ask them why. If they answer, “The money is better,” then I know they won’t be happy with their new job. Money doesn’t make you happy; doing something you love does!

Dental assistants are in demand in a big way right now due to the staffing shortage. Many states allow their assistants to perform expanded duties, also called extended duties. Many of these assistants make almost as much money as a hygienist, without the student loans and classroom time.

Considerations when contemplating dental hygiene

  1. Most programs are at least a two-year commitment, and with prerequisite classes, it could be longer. Do you have the time to invest?
  2. Can you handle the student loan debt that going back to school may create?
  3. Do you like doing the same thing all day?

More myth busters

I shouldn't work around nitrous oxide
X-rays are just a way to pay the bills
It's time to leave dental assisting

Don’t get me wrong, hygiene is a great career. But I don’t think it’s the end-all-be-all answer to moving up the money chain in dentistry. If you decide to make the move, be sure you’re going into it for the right reasons. Some good reasons include:

  1. To help patients lead a healthy lifestyle through education,
  2. To have flexible hours. Many hygienists work part- or full-time on different days in different offices.
  3. To earn an associate degree, with the possibility for earning a bachelor’s and even a master’s degree
  4. Dental hygienists are allowed to work under general supervision, with or without a doctor in the office, in some states. Some even allow them to operate their own practices. Most dental assistants must work under direct supervision, meaning we must have a dentist in the building.

So as you can see, there are definite pros and cons to each profession. The decision of whether to go into hygiene or stay in assisting really is up to you. There is no right answer, it’s just what fits you best. However, do not feel like dental assisting is not worth your time. With the proper training, the perfect practice fit, and investment in yourself, you can have a rewarding career as a dental assistant.

If you do take the leap into hygiene school, good for you! All of that dental assisting experience you have? It’s going to help you a lot in hygiene school and guide you to become a better hygienist!

About the Author

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

Tija Hunter, CDA, CDIA, CDIPC, CDSH, CDSO, EFDA, MADAA, is a member and former vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and the author of seven continuing education study courses. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].

Updated January 12, 2024