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How to break into dental hygiene education

June 17, 2021
You have what it takes to become a dental hygiene educator, although you may not know exactly how to do it. Here's the process explained by one RDH who did it herself.

These days, it seems like people want to have their cake and eat it too. Well, you can! You worked awfully hard to get your dental hygiene degree, so why not utilize your education and background to help others on their journey to their hygiene degree? And bonus, you’ll get paid as well!

Looking back at dental hygiene school, you might compare it to being in the military. You cannot slack off. You must be a sponge and absorb everything, because your boards are the endgame, and you have to be mentally strong to get there. Your experience, education, and leadership within the office have enabled you to become an educator and help others in their goal of becoming RDHs. So, what steps should you take to break into education?

What education level is needed?

Typically, programs like to hire applicants who have one degree higher than what they are teaching. Some programs have adjunct faculty with the same degree as what they are instructing clinically. Didactically, having one degree higher than your students is typical. When inquiring about a position, the requirements are noted. Do not be discouraged if you do not have the educational requirements right now. If long-term education is something you truly desire, it is never too late to acquire the degree needed to get you there.

Where to look for openings

There are many places to look for job postings. Some examples are googling “dental hygiene faculty jobs”; searching on the HigherEdJobs website (https://www.higheredjobs.com/?locale=en_US); or looking directly at a school’s website, typically under the career section, or you could set up a meeting with the director. If you have done your research and really have passion for a certain institution, an exploratory meeting with the director is your first step.

How to get in

There are a lot of different avenues to obtain these awesome positions. Let’s explore some of them.

Meet with a director. Have a list of questions for the director about the program, faculty size, expansion of the program, and requirements to become a faculty member.

Join your local dental hygiene association. This leads to one of the biggest paths—networking. Networking can be done with people who are already part of the faculty, LinkedIn, or with people who contribute to the program. In a recent interview with MaryAnne Ferree, clinical faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh, she stated her avenue into her current position was through networking. MaryAnne explains that she was working as a hygienist in the public health sector where she met and worked with someone who also worked at the university. They thought that she would excel as a clinical faculty member and encouraged her to apply.1

Another path is volunteering for school events such as Give Kids a Smile Day or Veterans Dental Day.

How to nail the interview

Once you see your opportunity and obtain an interview, here are some tips on sell yourself.

Remember, you are a catch, and you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Show up with the recommended documents outlined in the job description and either a killer curriculum vitae or résumé. For tips and tricks on how to compose the best version of yourself on paper, there are a couple of outlets to pull resources from. You can return to the school that you graduated from and get help from the career services department. You can also research online, as there is much information on templates, formatting, and content.

Set yourself apart

Remember, you are not the only one who they are interviewing. Typically, the basic requirements are going to be seen by every single candidate. How you present yourself and set yourself apart is really the trick here. You can provide a portfolio showcasing your accomplishments and résumé, and for the twist, have an entire section of icebreakers you could use in class. Demonstrate how you will capture students’ attention and make the material interesting. You can trump your competition with an outstanding delivery of your proposed curriculum. There are so many fun ways to engage and make your students part of the experience. Utilize Wlodkowski’s theory, which states that adult motivation in learning is enhanced when students are included in the process.2

If you are not teaching didactically, don’t worry, you can also present unique ways to engage your students in clinic. When interviewing for a faculty position, I asked ahead of time how many people were interviewing me and brought a clementine with a wooden shim inside of it for each of them. I gave them each a syringe to teach them how to give an inferior alveolar (IA) injection and what it felt like to feel the bone, a particularly important piece of the IA injection. This was totally unique and captured their attention. Think outside the box. Not every student is going to learn from textbook teaching. They will appreciate your efforts and passion.

Breaking out of clinical hygiene and into dental education is worth the effort if it is something that you truly desire. You already have the foundation and passion for dentistry within you. Even if you are burned out of clinical hygiene, your passion may be reignited through teaching others. Find your happiness and go for it. Life is too short to be unhappy and miserable when other career paths are within your reach.


  1. Ferree M. Personal interview. June 1, 2021.
  2. Wlodkowski RJ, Ginsberg MB. Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults. 4th ed. 2017; Jossey-Bass.

Resources for readers

Nicole Giesey, MBA, MSPTE, BSDH, RDH, is a passionate registered dental hygienist dedicated to researching, writing, and helping others. She fell in love with the education process and has invested time in various roles to expand her knowledge of different avenues available to hygienists. She started her career as a dental assistant and then progressed into dental hygiene. She branched into dental hygiene education. With the opportunity of getting into dental product management and inside sales management knocking at her door, she leaped into the world of dental sales. She is now a dental product sales representative. She can be reached at [email protected].