Resources for Dental Hygiene Students

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Tips for Kickstarting a Career While in Dental Hygiene School

Dental hygiene students should be aware of what to expect on the path to their careers, including growing one’s network, building experience, preparing for exams and vetting relevant career options. Read on to find out about tools and resources that can help dental hygiene students pinpoint the best path to a career in dental hygiene while still in school.

According to the American Dental Association, dental hygiene students have chosen to study one of the 30 fastest-growing occupations. With so many people choosing this field, students should consider how to set themselves apart while exploring specific career paths. Supplementing classroom learning with real-world opportunities can help students increase understanding while exploring potential specializations within the field.

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Student Resources: Exploring Dental Hygiene

Fields to Explore

Being aware of potential careers within the field of dental hygiene is critical for students as they start out. It’s important to determine interests early, so the time spent job shadowing, volunteering or interning is well-spent. Explore some of the specialization options dental hygiene students can use as resources here.


Dental hygienists in the clinician role may work in a variety of settings. From private dental practices, hospitals and community clinics to prisons, nursing homes or schools, clinical professionals have a multitude of choices. Work duties range from oral disease diagnosis, intervention and control to assessment and implementation of plans for oral disease prevention.

Corporate Representatives and Administrators

Students who have an interest in working for private businesses and companies will be interested in this arena. Dental hygienists interested in career advancement may find working as sales representatives, in product research and development or as product educators or business administrators are positive moves after a career in clinical practice. Professionals who have interests in teaching or research will likely fit in well here.

Public Health Officers

Professionals who are interested in dental care policy and implementation may find their niche in the public health sphere. Most efforts go toward securing dental health care for people who may not have access to it because of limiting economic or geographic factors. Hygienists in this arena work as non-profit officials and in local health departments or rural or urban clinics.


More science-minded hygienists can advance their careers by doing research to further the field. According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, scientists will do either qualitative (testing new procedures, products or theories) or quantitative (survey conducting and analysis) research. One might find these hygienists in colleges and universities, corporations, government agencies or working for non-profit organizations.


Through dental hygiene school, students will likely find a teacher or two that stands out. These teachers may once have been practicing hygienists, too, and likely are drawn to educating other oral health professionals after spending time in clinical practice. Teachers can work either in schools or for corporations, where they educate on a company’s products or services.

Exploration Opportunities

Classroom skills are necessary, but real-life experience is invaluable. There are many hands-on opportunities and resources that can help a dental hygiene student stand out from the competition. Whether it’s shadowing a professional in a specific role within the field, volunteering or completing a formal internship, acquiring real-time hours through the resources below will give students a leg-up and a clear idea of what to expect from a future career.

An opportunity for a student to follow a working dental hygiene professional through a typical work shift, to observe and learn what their day-to-day duties entail.Provides an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look inside different dental hygiene careersGives students a candid look at different dental hygiene professions from those currently working in the fieldShadowing multiple professionals across a variety of dental hygiene careers can help students learn what’s most interesting to themPinpoint a dental hygiene career that seems interesting.Reach out to the school Career Counselor or local dental societies to see if they offer job shadow connections.ORResearch local dental hygiene professionals and offices who hold positions you are interested in on your own.Contact the office or dental hygiene professional via phone or email, introduce yourself as a student and express your interest in job shadowing for a day.The San Francisco Dental Society offers a job shadowing program, matching students with local dental professionals so they may learn more about the dental hygiene field. The American Dental Education Association offers a full guide to job shadowing for students.
Varying lengths of time determined by the organization (generally 9-12 weeks), students will get real experience working in the field, ex: research projects, communications initiatives, practical dental office management, community outreach, etc.Hands-on experienceSome internships are paid, like those from Oral Health America or Pacific Dental Services.Allows students to branch out into specific communities and specializations i.e., dental hygiene in at-risk communities or internationallyDetermine a specialization you’d like to learn more about.Research dental organizations and schools that offer internships.Gather the application materials – be mindful that you’ve met all the requirements.Apply to multiple options.Oral Health America offers 12-week paid internships over the summer in Chicago at OHA’s headquarters, where students specialize in understanding policies and increasing accessibility of care to vulnerable demographics. Pacific Dental Services offers paid internships at their headquarters in Irvine, CA for dental hygiene students interested in dental office management, administration and information technology.
Getting involved in a state dental society, such as the local American Dental Hygienists’ Association, or similar organizationIncreased professional networkSense of purposeDevelopment of stronger relationships with fellow volunteersBetterment of professional skill setJoin American Dental Hygienists’ Association and volunteer, or use its resources to find a place that is looking for volunteersORGet in touch with your state and local associationsLocal community healthcare center volunteer opportunities can be found by clinic through this Health Resources and Services Administration Database, which searches locations by zip code. America’s Dentists Care Foundation continually looks for volunteers for their local events around the nation, providing free oral health care to underserved communities.
Developing a working relationship with a dental professional, who a student can turn to for real-life advice, asking questions and getting guidance on everything from coursework to job prospects.A long-term relationship with someone who works in the fieldPotential access to an existing network of dental professionalsGet in touch with your state dental association or the dental schools adviser to see who they recommend as a mentor.Reach out to professors or personal connections you may have in the dental field, including at your personal dental office.The professional publication “Dimensions of Dental Hygiene” Mentorship Program was created to help aspiring dental hygienists through school by providing an online database of mentors to answer a variety of academic and industry related questions. Many states, such as the Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists’ Association offer a mentorship program for dental hygiene students, with online applications for easy access.

Questions to Ask

In preparing for a job-experience opportunity, students should ask a few questions of themselves and of their mentors. A student should often be evaluating his or her interests in order to properly reflect on the path they’ve chosen. It’s OK to ask yourself, “Am I interested in this, and what am I hoping to get out of this?” Here is a list of questions a student should consider asking the professionals they are shadowing, interning or being mentored by.

  • 1. What do you like and dislike about dental hygiene?

    If answered candidly, this question can elicit a very genuine response. Maybe the professional has a long list of items they do or don’t like, or maybe the answer is much different than expected. This will help students determine if their chosen path in dental hygiene feels right.

  • 2. Do you feel challenged by dental hygiene, and are you planning to advance your career?

    Career advancement is important in any field, and the answer to this question may give students a realistic view of those opportunities in dental hygiene. Plus, it’s always great to know if someone’s work gets boring, or if it’s easy to keep it fresh and interesting.

  • 3. What would you change if you could go back to dental school and do it over again?

    We can all learn from each other’s experience, and it’s a great idea to ask dental professionals what they did right and what they would change if they could go back and start fresh. The more advice and tips students can collect, the better.

  • 4 . How do you balance dental office duties and life or family obligations?

    Every person has an idea of their ideal work to life balance. Some dental hygienists put their career above all else, while others believe family life, traveling or other activities are very important. Students should find out how different dental professionals find balance, and work to apply any tips they receive.

  • 5. What advice can you give me about dental school?

    Again, students should pick up as many hints and tricks as possible. Avoiding common pitfalls may help make for a smoother journey through dental school, and can set students on a clearer path towards a career in dental hygiene.

Find more information on career advancement in dental hygiene here

Dental Hygiene Student Networking Resources

Much of life is about who you know, which holds true for dental hygiene students as they look for networking resources to help them through school. Networks are critical for furthering opportunity; students should take advantage of the people they meet and keep in mind ways that they can contribute to a network. Here are some handy networking tips for students pursing dental hygiene degrees.

  • Tip 1 – Don’t be shy around dental professionals.

    It’s okay to make the first move and introduce yourself to dental professionals in a confident way. Make eye contact, shake someone’s hand and smile. It can be intimidating, but keep in mind that in the dental business especially, a great smile goes a long way. Being genuine and polite are key to breaking the ice.

  • Tip 2 – Find something in common beyond dental care.

    Go beyond an interest in oral health, ask questions about colleagues, and find something else in common with them to help further the relationship. You may have grown up in the same state, or share an alma mater with a family member. These extra connections can make students more memorable.

  • Tip 3 – Insert yourself in the dental community.

    Sign up for volunteer opportunities or events sponsored by the local dental health society or clinics, or apply for a student leadership position at dental school. It may take some time and energy, but putting in the extra effort while still in school can save students precious networking time after graduation.

  • Tip 4 – Use online networks professionally.

    Keep personal profiles tidy, and know anything posted online is never 100 percent private. Create one professional social media page and keep the content industry-related. This is a great way to stay in touch with your dental hygiene networks and share articles, academic accomplishments or interesting research.

Clubs & Organizations for Dental Hygiene Students

Students should start using their resources and building networks while in dental hygiene school. Take advantage of opportunities to connect with dental professionals and other students through private and school organizations. Students who get involved early can learn a great deal from this collection of groups and resources in dental hygiene, as well as school sponsored clubs and organizations.

American Dental Education Association

An organization for education professionals, students and administrators. Students get the benefit of free membership with enrollment in a member institution, and all student members have access to a myriad of scholarships, awards and fellowship opportunities.

American Dental Hygienists’ Association

A resource hub for hygienists and students, ADHA has information for student members just starting out, either by volunteering, interning or first becoming officially licensed. It also walks students through the final stages of exam-taking and offers advice on entering into the profession.

American Student Dental Association

A membership-based student connection and support service group designed specifically for dental students. The ASDA hosts events, provides how-to information and offers professional mentorship programs in dental health.

National Dental Hygienists’ Association

A diversity-focused, membership-based group that holds annual conventions, offers student scholarships and grants, continuing education, and career advancement. NDHA specifically focuses on increasing accessibility of oral healthcare throughout the country and on increasing African American membership.

Exam Prep: Dental Hygiene Study Resources

The National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) is a comprehensive, 350 multiple-choice question exam. There are two components, one that covers theory and principle, and one that covers knowledge and skill. Students should not underestimate the necessary preparation, as first-timers will pass the exam at a 77.4 percent rate. Help ease exam stress with this list of helpful study resources to ensure thorough preparation.


ADA Sample Test

The American Dental Association offers this sample test for students studying for the NDHBE. The formatting and questions listed are similar to those on the actual National Board of Dental Hygiene Examination.

American Dental Hygienists’ Association Review

Students who are members of the ADHA can log on and prepare for exams with other students in an interactive community on this site.

Dental Hygiene Education

Developed by a Dental Hygiene Education Consultant, students can access a collection of sample cases to assist with studying for the case-based portion of the NBDHE. The site creator also has a Facebook page providing additional resources for exam candidates.

Hygienist Prep Study Tool

A tool allows students to study with the real NBDHE format with questions written by experts, this study guide uses metrics to allow test takers to track their practice test time to better allocate it to each section. The site also provides user support for additional help.

Jane Weiner, RDH BS National Board Review Pop Quiz

This online Dental Hygiene National Board Quiz was compiled by author, Philips Health Care Mentor of the Year and actively practicing dental hygienist, Jane Weiner, RDH BS.

Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations Guide

A comprehensive guide from the exam commission gives students a clear idea of exactly what to expect when they take their test. It details the content and provides preparation materials, and lays out the format of the exam questions.

National Board Dental Hygiene Examination Guide

This online preparation tool allows students to take a simulated NBDHE exam that looks and feels like the actual exam. This allows test-takers to improve their scores over time, estimate scores and learn from detailed explanations of questions.

Student Wellness in Dental Hygiene School

It’s completely normal for students in dental hygiene school to feel stressed out and overwhelmed, especially those tackling accelerated coursework. Going through school is just as much about learning to take care of yourself as it is about learning how to take care of patients. According to the American Student Dental Association, there are five dimensions of personal wellness to identify with: emotional, physical, intellectual, occupational and environmental. Here are some resources available to help dental hygiene students maintain overall health.

Online Resources

American Dental Association Center for Professional Success

The ADA hub for its student members provides information and resources to help with managing stress and balancing life, school and work, along with more practical tips like ergonomics for back pain, a common issue for clinical dental hygienists.

American Student Dental Association Wellness Page

A complete online guide to resources available to students as they go through school and transfer into careers as hygienists. The ASDA hosts Wellness Webinars and Wellness Challenges, and breaks down helpful information by state associations. This site breaks down the five dimensions of wellness and explains how to maintain great health in each category.

A membership-based online forum for dental hygienists and students, focused on support, troubleshooting and communications specific to dental hygiene. From blogs and podcasts to message boards, this site provides real-life peer resources and advice.

Campus Support

Check out the dental school’s wellness center. Many dental hygiene schools have services and resources available specifically for stress management.

After Dental Hygiene School: What’s Next?

Students are often prepared to work hard to get to graduation and licensure; however, many underestimate the necessary time and energy it could take to land their first job. Dental hygiene school will teach students most things about oral health, but they must have an idea about some of the other, additional skills they possess that will help create a well-balanced life and success in a first job.

Resume & Interview Resources

Prepare a resume that’s dental hygiene relevant

Consider how you want to come off to potential employers when they see you on paper. Any previous dental hygiene experience is very important to note. Use simple, direct language with active words. Make sure to include any awards you received in dental school.

Establish a dental professional appearance

Make sure your outgoing voicemail has a smooth, professional tone. Clean up your social media presence. Brush up on your phone etiquette, as many initial interviews are on the phone. Running through a mock interview process with a classmate or career counselor at your dental school can help ease nerves and prepare for common questions dental professionals may ask.

Prepare to present yourself to dental professionals

Do your research, it pays to learn more about the dental professionals or practice you interview with before you meet. The more polished you are, the more confident you will seem. Let your genuine interest for dental health come through and show enthusiasm for the specifics of the job.

Be tenacious and gracious

Most students won’t get the first job they interview for, or the second, and that’s okay. Keep trying, applying and be patient and gracious, thanking and asking dentists for interview feedback whenever possible. Going through multiple interviews in real-life dental offices will only continue to make you a stronger candidate when the right job in hygiene comes along.

On the Job Advice & Resources

Ask questions of hygienists

The learning curve in the dental hygiene field is steep. Despite all you know from school, there is much to learn that can’t be taught in the classroom. Ask questions of your superiors and colleagues, and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t know something or are uncomfortable with a procedure.

Be professional

As with any job, first-time hygienists should lean towards formality until getting a better feel for the dynamics of a new workplace. Some dental offices are very rigid and others aren’t, but make sure find out what the atmosphere is before assuming it will be one way or the other. Sometimes, you may need to make adjustments to fit in.

Be flexible and open to new ideas

Schedules will be different and a real dental practice will introduce unexpected stress into a first-time hygienist’s life. Be prepared to work through tough shifts, learn new ways of doing things and make adjustments outside of work. One major trait a dental hygienist possesses is the ability to talk to people in a fast-moving environment.

Learn about basic personal finances

First-time hygienists may find they’re getting their first regular paycheck, maybe ever. As with any career, start thinking about your budget, your credit, and your savings immediately. Students can put themselves in a great position for the future by learning about balancing personal finances before graduation, but putting it to practice is likely the hardest part.

Professional Organization Resources

Check out local and state dental organizations

Build a relationship with dental hygiene specific associations early and continue network-building, even after landing your first job. You never know when an opportunity may come up, or when you’ll be able to lend a hand with an exciting dental research project.

Join national dental organizations

The American Dental Association, American Dental Hygienists’ Association or National Dental Hygienists’ Association offer members outstanding benefits. In addition to growing a network, you can also get information on continuing education opportunities and advancements in the field.

Look into international opportunities

The International Federation of Dental Hygienists is a non-profit that unites people from all over the world in their promotion of dental health.Continuing Education

Set up for career advancement

Continuing education can get you on a great path toward career advancement in dental hygiene. Stay updated on learning opportunities and stay current on dental industry developments to continue to challenge yourself within your field.

Explore other dental interests

Maybe you work in private practice but have a passion for public health policy? Or you are interested in being an educator? Continuing education courses and opportunities are a great way to continue to explore your field even when you’re locked in to a small part of it.

Be active in the dental community

Support your dental community peers and allow them to support you. If you have ideas about the betterment of the profession or seek to branch out in the dental hygiene field, you will need a diverse network of knowledgeable professionals.

Become a member of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene

Members of the Academy can work to become dental hygiene educators. According to Diana Macri, RDH, it’s the only organization that provides its members this benefit.

Additional Resources for Dental Hygiene Students

American Academy of Dental Hygiene

Provides career advancement opportunities through leadership, mentorship and fellowship in the dental hygiene community.

American Dental Association State Dental Society Search

An easy to use search tool from the ADA that provides information for local dental societies by state.

“Brushing Up For Your Interview”

This helpful article by Linda Blackiston, RDH, BS from Registered Dental Hygienists Magazine outlines detailed ways dental hygiene students should prepare for interviews.

“Does Your Resume Need a Makeover?”

A handy compilation of tips and tricks for dental hygienists written by Regina Dreyer Thomas, RDH, MPA, this resume guide is great for first timers or seasoned veterans.

FAQ for Foreign Trained Dental Hygienists

Hygienists coming to the U.S. from international dental programs can read through this list of frequently asked questions by the American Dental Hygieneists’ Association to learn more about regulations and requirements.

Friends of Hu-Friedy, 11 Things You Can’t Learn in Dental School

This page has full responses from new dental hygienists about what they wish they’d learned in school. It includes professional information as well as personal work-life balance tips.

International Federation of Dental Hygienists

Formed in 1986, IFDH and its members advocate for dental health around the world.

State Licensure by Credential Endorsement Chart

Curious about the dental hygiene licensure credentials for your state? Check out this chart from the ADHA.

“Things They Didn’t Teach Me in School”

Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH and dental hygiene educator, writes this column piece for Registered Dental Hygienists Magazine about what she’s learned in the field, specifically geared toward new dental hygienists.

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