Unexpected Challenges: How to Be Prepared for Dental Hygiene School

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Whether we are currently in a dental hygiene program or a graduate, we can probably agree about the experiences of a dental hygiene student.

The first thing we can agree on is making sure dental hygiene is something you want to do. It is going to take some grit. Being enrolled in the dental hygiene program can be a challenge. In my area, it’s competitive, and only 18 students are accepted each year. There are hundreds of applicants. I did not get in on my first attempt, so stick to the goal. Do not get discouraged if you really want this.

After getting in, the program I attended had four people drop from the program, leaving four spaces unfilled for other people who may have wanted to pursue dental hygiene.

Understand the Direction of Courses

Be aware of the courses and their course descriptions. Look into what periodontology is and be ready to learn everything there is to know about it. Look at the program plan and make sure that you can arrange your life around it before the shock of the first semester sinks in.

Managing Time

Time management is the most important skill that you learn. Much new information is fed to students on a daily basis, and it can get a little overwhelming. Dental hygiene students study for a quiz or an exam almost every week. Dental hygiene school is very hands-on ─ truly the most information ever given to me at one time in my life. The coursework includes topics that are not common knowledge and take a lot of study time to understand fully. Going to dental hygiene school is a lot different than getting undergraduate classes completed.

Working while in School

I currently work in a dental office as an assistant. If working through school is a concern, in my opinion, it is possible. Several other students who I know also have jobs that they work during their downtime. Every semester has a different course schedule, and you will need to find a job where the employer is aware of your full-time student status and is willing to work with you. Within dentistry, many dental offices will come to an agreement to hire you after you complete school if you sign a contract to work for their office upon graduation. A position in a dental office is a great opportunity to get your foot in the door within the dental community.

Be Prepared for Expenses

A huge shocker when starting classes was the out-of-pocket costs on top of my tuition and books. My program required me to purchase all my instruments and PPE. In case you’re new to this, that’s all the tools you use for teeth cleaning and your infection control items such as gloves and gowns. It cost me $3,500 to purchase all of my things! You do not get to pick and choose what you want for the program, so these expenses are not negotiable.

Please be aware of the upfront costs and be in contact with an advisor or financial aid options in your area. I was able to complete most of my courses with school-funded scholarships. In addition to your supplies, you will be responsible for the cost of your exams at the end of your program. I implore you to be aware of upcoming expenses before beginning.

I do not want to make dental hygiene education sound impossible because it is definitely not. But it is challenging.

My advice would be to know how to manage your schedule and be organized so that you can accomplish daily tasks and complete the coursework with passing grades. If you think that is something you can do, and you get accepted into the program, then I believe dental hygiene is for you. I remember during one of my first days, a dentist, who was our oral histology professor, told us all that there’s only going to be one valedictorian. Naturally, hygiene students are competitive, so this is something that ignites a fire in all of us.

But remember, even the student earning the lowest grade can become a dental hygienist. When you enter a dental hygiene program, just know that you do not have to be perfect – you are learning and will get there. You do not have to be the valedictorian. All you need is the desire to be a dental hygienist, and I believe that you can do it.

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