I have been working as a clinical dental hygienist for 10 years. For the past several years, I have been piecing together part-time clinical jobs as there is an overabundance of dental hygienists in my state. I am considering moving to another state that offers increased job opportunities. What are the most important factors to consider when investigating the practice of dental hygiene in other states?
First, I would read all the licensure information for the new state in which you would like to practice. Information regarding licensure by credential, allowable duties in the new state, and the dental hygiene practice act for the state would give you a clear understanding of the legalities of practice. Next, I would thoroughly search the dental hygiene job market for the state or town in which you would like to practice. Explore the American Dental Hygienists’ Association website Career Center at adha.org/career-center to search nationwide for dental hygiene jobs or to research alternative career paths in the field of dental hygiene. In addition, you could contact the professional state and local associations in the new area to discuss job prospects and availability. Keep in mind that although many areas might appear to have an overabundance of dental hygienists or have no current listings for available jobs, there might still be positions available. When I moved to Montana, I was told there were no jobs in the town where I was moving. After getting my Montana RDH license, I dressed professionally, personally visited each dental office in town, introduced myself, and left a resume. Within approximately 2 weeks, I was hired in five different practices, one day a week in each. Over time, I was able to consolidate down to one practice. Working in multiple practices is often how dental hygienists start in a new location. Cost of living is also important to investigate. The dental hygiene pay scale varies widely between different states. Moving from Montana to California increased my hourly salary, but also my cost of living. Another significant factor is that life is not all about work. Other considerations are the weather, community culture, friendliness of the residents, family and/or friends near, and the availability of activities that interest you. My working motto, which I learned from my father, is you do not quit a job until you have another one. Before giving notice at your current jobs and moving, I would get licensed in the new state. Then, take a few trips there in order to find a new dental hygiene position. Getting a job first is especially important if you are mainly interested in full-time employment opportunities.
I live in Stowe, Vermont, a small resort town about 40 minutes northeast of Burlington. My husband is a dentist and we have one full time associate and we are about to hire another part-time associate. As a dental hygienist of 45 years, I have seen all sorts of dental practices, dental hygiene employment, including part-time and full-time employment, and changes in practice acts. If I were to make a move to another state, I might, first of all, contact the state dental and dental hygiene constituencies and inquire about which parts of the state dental hygienists are in more demand. Second, Vermont has a progressive and organized constituency of dental hygienists, which sets the tone for the state. So, also inquiring about what is allowed and not allowed in the state in which you are thinking of working would be an important consideration (ie, do you have your license in local anesthesia and does that state endorse?) Third, you may want to contact any dental hygiene schools in the prospective state and talk to any availably faculty as to placement issues in that state. Or, depending on your credentials, why not inquire on a faculty position? After the state practice inquiry, I would look into private offices with the following considerations. We currently have three dental hygienists, other than myself, working in our office (I work two days a week). Two dental hygienists work three days/week, one works four days a week with one day as an office assistant (taking radiographs for the dental hygiene team, helping to disinfect treatment rooms, etc, and she is paid the hourly salary of a dental hygienist even though she is functioning as a dental office assistant). All of our dental hygiene staff receive health benefits and are paid for their 1-hour lunch. Long ago, as a dental hygienist, I implemented this policy with my husband, because in this profession as you well know, it is difficult to finish precisely on the hour. Therefore, the dental hygienists are not grouchy about a patient that took 10 minutes longer or if they need to attend to instrument sharpening or another function that pushes into their lunch hour. In addition, 90% of the time we have an extra assistant to help the dental hygiene team with radiographs and with disinfecting the room. This allows for the dental hygiene team to spend the proper amount of time on documentation. Recare appointments (healthy) are scheduled for 60 minutes and periodontal maintenance patients are scheduled for 70 minutes. The office environment lends itself to a caring and comprehensive atmosphere, not only for our patients, but also for the entire staff. Our office may be unique in the sense that it started with a husband/wife team. Being a dental hygienist myself, I know what it takes to make an employee feel appreciated. To that end, we employ a dental hygiene team that has been in our office for some time. That would be another question for you to ask: how long have the other team members been working in an office you might be considering. If the turnover is rapid, you can rest assured the employee was less than pleased at the compensation, not only monetarily, but professionally as well.
For starters, you’ll want to find out how to qualify for licensure in the state that’s of interest to you. Knowing what the legally permissible duties of a dental hygienist in that state will also be something you’ll want to know. Research the salaries for the area where you want to live and compare them to the cost of living in that area. Generally, cities have higher salaries but also higher costs of living. Contact temporary agencies where you might like to move and inquire about the job market there. Look online for jobs in that area and ideally, visit the area to get a feel for the place. Make a list of what you absolutely need where you live. Maybe you want to be around people your age or have family and friends near or certain weather conditions. Perhaps invest in additional education to enhance your marketability. Good luck to you. I have a feeling the job market is tight everywhere these days, but that’s just a hunch.
I think the state dental practice act is most for decisions regarding scope of practice. I would investigate the extent of supervision required, and also the level of therapy being practiced by dental hygienists. Reach out to the state and local components of areas you’re considering. For instance, some states have yet to allow dental hygienists to administer local anesthesia. If dental hygienists have been trained to perform definitive quadrant scaling and root planing in periodontal therapy, and they move to a state that does not permit administration of local anesthesia by dental hygienists, they will be extremely frustrated. The same goes for independent practice. I live in the most progressive state in terms of practice autonomy (California). Colorado is close behind and I think Washington state has permitted restorative practice since the 1980s.