Merri Jones, RDH, MSDH, associate professor in the Department of Dental Hygiene at Eastern Washington University Riverpoint campus in Spokane, and a member of Dimensions of Dental Hygiene’s Peer Review Panel, tells dental hygiene students all they need to know about getting a jumpstart to their career in higher education.
Just as there are many roads to becoming a dental hygienist, there are also many career pathways within the profession. You may have chosen dental hygiene because you found yourself drawn to educating and motivating people while improving oral health. Or, your experiences in dental hygiene education may have sparked an interest in teaching.
What are the steps to becoming a dental hygiene educator?
Dental hygiene educators work across the public and private sectors and in many different settings. These may include teaching online or in the classroom, clinic, laboratory, or in clinical rotation. Academic teaching positions may be part time or full time, as well. Teaching institutions may include universities, colleges, and allied health programs in both 2-year and 4-year institutions. Determine specific degree requirements for programs you are interested in.
The American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)1 has established minimum qualifications for dental hygiene faculty in dental hygiene (Standard 3.7), whereby the full-time faculty of a dental hygiene program must possess a baccalaureate or higher degree. It is important to note that a master’s degree is more commonly required.
- Part-time faculty providing didactic (classroom) instruction requires a baccalaureate degree (or current enrollment in a baccalaureate degree program).
- All faculty members must have current knowledge of the specific subjects they are teaching, and documentation of current educational methodology.
- Faculty who are dental hygienists must be graduates of dental hygiene programs accredited by CODA.
As you can see, you are well on your way in your pursuit of a career in dental hygiene education already! If you are in an associate degree program, you may want to consider a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (BSDH) degree-completion program.
As a dental hygiene student there are a number of ways to learn more about and prepare for a career as a dental hygiene educator:
- Find a faculty mentor. Share your interest in teaching.
- Student American Dental Hygienists’ Association (SADHA) meetings. Invite a dental hygiene educator or faculty member to speak at your SADHA meeting.
- Teaching assistants. Form teaching assistant (TA) projects in partnership with a supervising faculty member.
- Student mentoring. Pair up in junior/senior student groups for mentoring.
- American Dental Education Association (ADEA) student chapter. Inquire on forming an ADEA Chapters for Students, Residents and Fellows (COSRF) at your institution. COSRF focuses on promoting knowledge and interest in pursuing careers in teaching.
- Resources. Explore resources from the ADHA, ADEA, and your state dental hygiene association. These organizations include excellent resources on their websites related to careers and professional development.
- Professional publications. Many of the dental hygiene professional journals and publishers have websites/blogs and student sections in their publications providing students with current content tailored to the dental hygiene student.
- Be a lifelong learner! Maintain your professional membership with ADHA, network, and find mentoring opportunities in your local dental hygiene component.
- Commission on Dental Education. Accreditation Standards for Dental Hygiene Education Programs. Available at: https://www.ada.org/~/media/CODA/Files/2020_dental_hygiene_standards.pdf?la=en. Accessed March 8, 2021.