Mentor Advice ForumOpinions on furthering my career in dental hygiene
Priscila Nazar asked 3 years ago

My name is Priscila Nazar, and I was guided by one of my professors to this webpage as part of an assignment. Before, I present my question I would like to give an overview of myself. I am currently going for my bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene in an online program, while being a full time hygienist in a general dental office. I graduated just last year, May 2018, and began practicing 3 months later. I am currently going for my bachelor’s because I wanted to continue my studies for future opportunities. I am currently still interested in continuing on the clinical side, as I believe I still have a lot to learn and I am enjoying my time treating patients so far. However, I am beginning to become interested in the educational and public health branches in dental hygiene. When did you feel it was time for a change in your career as a dental hygienist? If so, what did you choose and why? Also, for education and public health, are master degrees needed and/or recommended? 
Thank you very much for your answers in advance!
Best regards,
-Priscila Nazar

8 Answers
Alice M. Horowitz, RDH, MA, PhD Staff answered 3 years ago

First of all, good for you for earning your bachelor’s degree! You will not regret it! It does open more doors to careers in more than clinical dental hygiene. Most importantly, it will lay the foundation for working on a master’s degree. I knew before I graduated from dental hygiene school that I wanted to do more than clinical work all my life. So, I began working on my master’s degree while I was a clinical instructor in a dental hygiene program. At the time I had two children and my thoughts were that when they graduated from college I would work on my PhD. When that time came, i seriously thought about going to dental school, but then realized I didn’t want to drill and fill holes, I wanted to prevent them from happening. Recognizing that health policy is a major way to help prevent diseases I gave serious thought to a law degree. In fact, I even went to several law lectures with a friend in law school. Then, I figured out what i really wanted to do was work in public health to prevent dental diseases. So, i earned my PhD in health education.
In short, yes, Priscilla, a master’s degree is necessary whether you opt for education or public health…..or both. good luck and don’t rule out a doctorate!

Lucinda B. McKechnie, RDH, BS Staff answered 3 years ago

I am including my responses to two questions that may provide some insight from someone who has been in this career for some time. In addition, I would like to answer your question about change. Upon graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, I sought a clinical position in a private practice. Unfortunately, the situation was less than motivating and desirable. After 2 years, I learned of an opportunity to attend a graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania Perio Department, which included only four other dental hygienists. The program was approximately a semester long and covered procedures such as infiltration and block anesthesia, root planing and curettage, and intraoral photography. We were also part of an experimental program to determine if dental hygienists could actually scale and root plane with the same expertise as periodontists and lo and behold we could! The program morphed the curriculum in the dental hygiene program at the university. Subsequent to that program I joined a CE program on these more “advanced” procedures that include 3 days combining didactic, workshops, and clinical experience. The CE course has been ongoing for almost 20 years with a waiting list (as most of these procedures were still not included in other dental hygiene programs). That course spring boarded me into all sorts of other options which you can read about below. I was lucky to have been accepted to that program with outstanding faculty willing to push the level of the clinical dental hygienist to the best of their expertise. Best of luck in your future endeavors.
Please see below my response to another question from a dental hygienist that relates to your question. Furthering your education should be of paramount importance and open doors for you. My additional advice would be to maintain a job as a clinical dental hygienist in a quality private practice if only one day a week to supplement your income and to establish expertise in clinical practice. It is my opinion somewhat of a disconnect exists between what is taught clinically in dental hygiene schools and what can be gleaned by private practice and adding that to your clinical teaching. In summary, I think you can do all that you mentioned, together or one step at a time to enhance the hopefully life career path you have chosen.
Career options abound depending on your interests!  For example, I predominately focused on clinical dental hygiene and pursued a Bachelors Degree several years after receiving my Associates degree in dental hygiene. While my hourly wage did not increase in clinical dental hygiene with a Bachelor’s degree, I started an additional career in public speaking. The focus of my presentations was review of the current periodontal literature and evidenced based practice. Since I was still seeing patients, the wealth of information derived from the clinical experience relative to evidenced based practice was well received. The notoriety lead to requests to join corporate councils and review product lines for various companies, a nominal compensation but a wealth of payback in places I was sent and colleagues that have remained friends to this day.
As far as the most prestigious job title, one of my colleagues furthered her career by attending Wharton business school. With an MBA and background in dental hygiene and health sciences, she started working for a pharmaceutical company and has worked her way up to an executive position. Academia is, of course,  another strand for achievement, with PhD dental hygienists pursuing research and top positions in universities.
I have never regretted pursuing dental hygiene as a career. From clinical practice, to publishing, to corporate boards, to presentations, to traveling to Vietnam for Operation Smile, the options are endless and diverse if you just look for them.

Nancy Kiehl, RDH, MS Staff answered 3 years ago

Good for you at continuing your education! To answer your question, I reassessed my choice of associate degree completion clinical dental hygiene after 1.5 years in full-time clinical employment. I missed the world of academia and learning. I applied to a post-certificate bachelor degree program open to dental hygienists who had 2-year degrees. I was accepted into the program and moved across the country to attend. Little did I know that my clinical skills would be considered as part of my orientation process. I was expected to help the first year dental hygiene students in lab and the faculty wanted to make sure I was clinically competent before assigning me this duty. My clinical training at my original college didn’t prepare me for the advanced periodontal instrumentation taught at this university so I was put back into clinic! I was assigned to work with a perio grad student and do all the preparation for his surgeries. At the time, I felt sad that I needed extra clinical training but now when I think about it, it was the best thing to happen to me as it made my periodontal instrumentation skills top notch! After completion of my bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, I was asked by the program director to stay on as a faculty member with the expectation that I would enroll in a master’s degree program. I taught dental hygiene for many years and also worked part-time as a clinical dental hygienist. At present, I am a full-time endoscopic dental hygienist. I miss teaching and perhaps some day I will go back to it.
To answer your question about degrees necessary to teach: you need one degree level above your students so if you taught in a community college, you’d need a bachelor’s degree. If you wanted to teach at a university then a master’s degree is necessary. A PhD is sometimes required to become dental hygiene program director. I can’t address the public health part of your question as I am not knowledgeable in that area.
Good luck to you!

Christine Nathe, RDH, MS Staff answered 3 years ago

I decided when I was interviewing for dental hygiene school, that I was interested in teaching. The program director had led an advisement session and she had such passion for dental hygiene, that I thought I would love to go further in my career. So, I went on for my Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene and Master of Science in Dental Hygiene right away, while practicing. I still practice as well as teaching, writing, speaking ,etc, and just love it. I thought about going on for my Master of Public Health, but once I realized there was a Master of Science in dental hygiene, that had me sold.  I am so glad I did that. I got dental hygiene expertise, with dental public health and teaching projects during my graduate work. At our program, it is mandatory to have a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene for teaching, no other master’s degrees are accepted. Hope this helps and best of luck!

JoAnn Galliano, MEd, RDH Staff answered 3 years ago

When did you feel it was time for a change in your career as a dental hygienist? Once it felt like just a job, not a profession that I loved.
If so, what did you choose and why? I chose education because I had teaching experience. I enjoyed teaching prior to becoming a hygienist, so it was an easy choice.
Also, for education and public health, are master’s degrees needed and/or recommended?  A master’s is required to teach didactic course work. Clinical instructors need at least a bachelor’s degree. In California, due to a growing number of graduate programs graduating hygienists with a master’s degree, many colleges choose applicants with a master’s degree over those with only a bachelor’s degree.