Dental Hygienist Certification Programs

What national certifications or board exams are needed in order to practice as a hygienist?

A national board, clinical board, and state board exam are all three required in order to practice as a dental hygienist. The national board is a day-long exam involving a four hour multiple choice section, an applied knowledge section, and a practical exam. The applied knowledge section usually contains about 12 case studies including pictures, x-rays, and written description of the patient (age, weight, blood pressure, and main complaint). The person sitting for the test is asked specific questions pertaining to these fictional patients. The practical exam requires the examinee to bring a qualified patient with them for the exam and clean their teeth. This patient must meet criteria such as having a certain amount of build up on their teeth. Representatives from the board exam evaluate the patient both before and after the cleaning. If all portions of the test are passed, the hygienist student receives a 150 question test specific for each state they plan to work in. Both the national and state exams are generally taken in the last semester of the program.

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What is the accrediting body that certifies hygienists?

Once the board exams are passed and state license is obtained, the official title the individual receives is Registered Dental Dental Hygienist CertificationHygienist, commonly abbreviated as RDH. Each state has a governing body that monitors hygienists. Each state also has a website maintained by the Department of Professional Regulation which lists all professionals who have their RDH in that state with their license number. The website also shows each hygienists’ “status” which includes whether they’ve ever been suspended, had their license revoked, or are in overall good standing. Everyone has access to this site but dentists and patients find it most useful.

What does this field require in terms of continuing education?

The number of continuing education credits varies from state to state. For example, in Illinois 36 credits every 3 years are required for continuing education in order to maintain a license to practice as a dental hygienist in that state. Up to 12 of these hours may be taken through online courses and the remaining 24 must be taken through face-to-face lectures. A current CPR card is also required.

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Are there any “specializations” in this field?

The only specialty within the hygiene profession is working with a periodontist; a dentist who specializes in gum disease. This does not require extra schooling, however when hygienists are hired into a periodontist’s office there is some extra on-the-job training. Hygienists can also receive a certification in nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”). Earning these certifications can provide hygienists with an extra “edge” in gaining employment and also provide them with the opportunity to earn a higher salary.

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