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Dental Nurse

Education and Training: Dental hygiene degree
Average Salary: $66,500
Job Outlook: Very good

A dental nurse, or dental hygienist, is responsible for much of the patient care that happens in a dentist’s office. They work with dentists, and sometimes orthodontists, to complete cleaning and other care routines for patients. They are primarily responsible for the first examination of the teeth and gums, and they also do most of the routine cleanings. In most offices, dental nurses also have a primary role in teaching patients to care for their own teeth, especially by teaching proper brushing and flossing techniques and routines.

Dental nurses’ jobs and available responsibilities differ by state. In some states, they can use fluorides and sealants on the teeth, and some states even allow them to use local anesthetics on patients. Some nurses can also create temporary fillings and dressings and remove sutures without the assistance of an orthodontist or dentist.

Education and Training Requirements

Dental nurse requirements vary from one state to the next, but almost all states require a dental hygiene program. High school students interested in this career should take classes in math, biology, and chemistry to prepare themselves for dental hygiene school. Many high schools allow students to start dental hygiene programs while completing their high school diploma requirements, so that students can get on the job earlier.

Most dental hygiene programs offer associate’s degrees, but some just offer certification. Bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene may make for higher starting salaries, as they often allow hygienists to do more, such as applying anesthetics. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field can be used to do dental research or to teach in a dental health program.

Getting the Job

Dental nurses typically work in a private dentist’s or orthodontist’s office and should apply directly to get this job. Some may be able to get jobs as hygienists while still working on further education after they have already completed a certificate program or an associate’s degree.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

This popular career path for those interested in medical-related fields is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States, and it’s expected to stay that way for quite a while. Graduates can only practice in the state where they’re licensed, though, so job availability may be lower in some states due to high competition. As more dentists’ offices rely on nurses and Americans place even higher value on dental health, this career field will continue to grow substantially.

In general, dental nurses do not move to different positions without a complete career change. However, some may advance in rank at their own office and gain more responsibility. Others may supplement their income by teaching part-time in a dental nursing program, or may transition into a full-time teaching position with a more advanced degree.

Working Conditions and Environment

Typically, dental nurses work in a dentist’s or orthodontist’s office, though some may work in clinical research studies, as well. This job involves plenty of moving around and working directly with patients, though some record-keeping and office work may also be required. It’s not typically considered a stressful job, and dental nurses rarely work more than a full-time week, during which hours are normal business hours.

Salary and Benefits

The average income for a dental nurse is about $66,500 per year, though income depends on geography and experience. Most earn between $55,200 and $78,900, with a few earning over $91,400 per year.

This full-time job typically comes with health care coverage and vacation days. Sick days and personal days are also typically part of the package.

Where to Go for More Information
To find out more about dental nurse training and requirements in your area or about available jobs, check out these resources:

American Dental Association
211 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 440-2500

American Dental Hygienists’ Association
444 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 3400
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 440-8913

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesHealth & Medicine