Pediatric Dental Hygienist Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career in pediatric dental hygiene? Read on for real job descriptions, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming a pediatric dental hygienist is a good fit for you.
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Pediatric Dental Hygiene Careers: Pros and Cons

Pediatric dental hygienists do dental cleaning work in children's mouths, which can be a challenging but fulfilling task. Look at the following pros and cons to help you determine if becoming a pediatric dental hygienist is a good choice for you.

PROS of Pediatric Dental Hygiene Careers
Career is growing at a fast pace (33% increase projected from 2012-2022)*
Pay is above average ($71,970 average annually in May 2014)*
Only an associate's degree is typically needed*
Work in well-lit, office environments*
Part-time opportunities are available (more than half of dental hygienists work part-time)*

CONS of Pediatric Dental Hygiene Careers
Challenge of working primarily with kids*
Can be exposed to infectious diseases*
A bachelor's or master's degree can be required to work in schools or public health clinics, as well as to teach or conduct research*
Licensure is required in addition to education requirements*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Typically, the duties of dental hygienists fall into the categories of patient education and oral hygiene promotion. You'll primarily have to educate parents on proper hygiene for their kids, since kids may not be able to absorb the information. You'll explain and reinforce proper flossing and brushing methods. You might advise children to consume less candy or soda, due to the negative effects that sugar can have on tooth enamel.

Dental hygienists are fortunate to work in clean, well-lit offices. However, the challenge of working with kids is always present, especially when kids are afraid of the situations they might face when visiting a dentist. You may have to calm down children when preparing to administer anesthesia or apply temporary fillings. Your other duties can include providing routine cleanings, removing deposits such as tartar and plaque from teeth, providing fluoride treatments, examining patients for oral diseases and taking x-rays. The work of hygienists frees up dentists to focus on more complicated dental procedures, such as root canals.

Salary Information and Career Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental hygienists earned an average yearly salary of $71,970 in 2014 (www.bls.gov). There were more than 196,000 dental hygienists employed in the country, though specific figures for pediatric dental hygienists are harder to determine.

Dental hygiene careers are growing rapidly. In fact, employment was expected to grow by a whopping 33% from 2012-2022, which was much faster than average. A variety of factors were expected to contribute to this growth, including an aging population and an increase in patients who desire preventative care. With strong pay and excellent job prospects, it is a good market for those thinking of becoming pediatric dental hygienists.

Education Requirements

There are relatively low education requirements needed to gain career entry. To become a pediatric dental hygienist, you must complete either a certificate or Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene program from an accredited institution. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits dental hygiene programs. Both types of programs take around two years to complete and include a combination of traditional classroom study and clinical lab experience. In your clinical experiences, you'll learn skills for:

  • Conducting oral exams and x-rays
  • Sealing cavities with lubricant
  • Applying teeth fluorides
  • Offering dental hygiene education

In the classroom portion of your education, you'll complete courses such as:

  • Dental anatomy
  • Dental pharmacology
  • Radiography
  • Clinical dental hygiene
  • Oral pathology

Bachelor's and master's degree programs in dental hygiene also exist. You may consider these programs if you want to work for a school or public health program. A bachelor's or master's degree could also be required for teaching and research positions.

Licensing Requirements

All dental hygienists must be licensed or registered with their states in order to work. Requirements vary by state, but most require completing an accredited dental hygiene program and passing both written and practical exams. This often includes passing the American Dental Association's National Board Dental Hygiene Examination for the written portion.

What Employers Are Looking for

Job searches show that dental hygienists are desired across the nation, but positions specifically in pediatric dental hygiene may be limited. Both full-time and part-time positions are available. Below are some real job opportunities available in April 2012.

  • In Pennsylvania, a dental hygienist is desired to provide exams and treatment for patients. May need to assist with emergency procedures. The position requires continuing education and professional development activities to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies.
  • A full-time dental hygienist is needed for small Texas family practice dental office. Work hours are Monday through Thursday from 8am to 5pm. Candidates should have at least one year of experience.
  • A dental hygienist is needed in Michigan for a pediatric dental office. The posting calls for someone with a gentle chair-side manner and great sense of humor. The hygienist should be able to work both full and half days and should also be available on short notice to work as needed.

How to Stand out

You may want to consider joining a professional dental hygienist or dentistry association to get a leg up. Professional organizations may offer continuing education and networking opportunities. Going to the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) website is a good place to start learning about career planning and membership. Additionally, individual states may have professional associations, such as the Arizona State Dental Hygienists Association (ASDHA).

Since you're going to be treating the teeth of kids, you could also consider taking some courses in dealing with children. Children often need caring, understanding and humor to help them cope in situations where they might be intimidated. How you interact with kids is critical to your success in the industry. Taking a course in child psychology or volunteering for a youth organization could help you learn about their intricacies and may help you in your position as a pediatric dental hygienist.

Alternative Careers to Consider

If you want a career that focuses on more than just oral health, becoming a registered nurse (RN) may be for you. About the same amount of education is needed; you'll need to complete a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program in nursing, as well as earn a state license. The field was expected to grow at a rate of 26% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS, which was not quite as fast as the field of dental hygiene. RNs made an average of $69,000 per year in May 2011. As an RN, you could go on to become an advanced practice nurse by completing a master's degree program.

If the dental field is definitely your interest but you're looking for a career with fewer training requirements and less responsibility, you may look into becoming a dental assistant. Dental assistants work under the direction of dentists, passing instruments, preparing treatment areas, keeping records and scheduling appointments. The BLS reported that employment was expected to grow at a rate of 31% over the 2010-2020 decade. There is not as much money to be made in this career though, as yearly incomes averaged $35,000 in May 2011. Some states don't require formal training and you can get started by completing on-the-job training. In other states, you'll need to complete a formal training program, which can take 1-2 years. Some states also require certification or licensure.

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