Welcome, New Colleagues!
The phrase, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” is usually associated with a popular Christmas song, but many dental hygiene students are echoing this sentiment right now. For them, it’s a time of celebration since the school term is winding down for the year. Some are facing an even more life-changing chapter—they are graduating from a challenging program that has contributed to their professional and personal growth. No matter how long it’s been since you’ve graduated from dental hygiene school, those experiences during the final few months are indelibly etched in your memory. Culminating in graduation and licensure, it was such an exciting time as we looked forward to practicing our new profession!
As I see pictures and posts on social media of eager dental hygiene seniors planning their next steps after graduation, I thought of how the profession has evolved in recent years. What does the current state of dental hygiene practice look like? What type of workforce situation will our new colleagues enter and how will they contribute? According to statistics from the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA), the future is promising.1 And dental hygiene education continues to advance as these statistics demonstrate:1
- There are more than 200,000 dental hygienists in the United States according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- A total of 330 accredited dental hygiene programs are currently educating the next generation of clinicians. Entry-level programs average 84 credit hours or 3 academic years.
- Approximately 7,000 new dental hygienists graduate annually.
- Eighteen dental hygiene programs also offer a master’s degree in the field.
- Currently, 42 states allow dental hygienists to practice in direct-access settings.
Note that last point—it’s important and impressive! Direct access allows dental hygienists to provide services in settings like public health clinics, schools, and nursing homes without the presence or direct supervision of a dentist. In 2008, only 28 states allowed dental hygienists to directly access patients. Today, that number includes nearly all states. It’s also significant that 19 states currently recognize and reimburse dental hygienists as Medicaid providers.2 Serving the most vulnerable patients becomes more achievable with such policies, and where both direct access and direct reimbursement occur, it stands to reason that these populations benefit.
Opportunities abound for today’s dental hygiene graduates. This is especially true when considering not only clinical roles but those outside the operatory. ADHA has identified seven professional roles: clinician, corporate, public health, researcher, educator, administrator, and entrepreneur.3 Now more than ever, all of these avenues offer dental hygiene professionals rewarding and fulfilling career paths.
I’m often asked why I chose dental hygiene. It was an easy choice—I wanted a challenging yet enriching career where I could make a difference in people’s lives. Dental hygiene provides all that and more. So cheers to my new colleagues as you embark on an amazing adventure. For you, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
- American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Facts About the Dental Hygiene Workforce in the United States. Available at: adha.org/resources-docs/75118_Facts_About_the_Dental_Hygiene_Workforce.pdf. Accessed April 15, 2022.
- American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Reimbursement. Available at: adha.org/reimbursement. Accessed April 15, 2022.
- American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Professional Roles of the Dental Hygienist. Available at: adha.org/resources-docs/714112_DHiCW_Roles_Dental_Hygienist.pdf. Accessed April 15, 2022.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. May 2022; 20(5)6.