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Welcome to your new career! Advice for recently licensed hygienists

Oct. 24, 2022
Don't be overwhelmed by your new profession. Seasoned RDHs would love to mentor you! Also, remember to start your self-care now, not later.

Welcome to your new profession! What an empowering time to join a health-care career that offers a multitude of options. Whether its clinical, research, educational, or entrepreneurial, you’re bound to find your place in the ever-changing dental landscape. Allow me to share some advice as you navigate this new terrain.

Look for mentors

Recognize that you are not alone! There are many seasoned hygienists willing to mentor new hygienists as they begin many unknown challenges. One crucial piece is to transition your SADHA membership to an ADHA membership now that you’re licensed. This will help you meet others in your profession to connect with and ask for mentorship opportunities. You could find your new mentor three states away, or you might meet them at a local ADHA component meeting.

Mentorship is very valuable because you no longer have instructors watching your every move, and you may need someone to bounce ideas and treatment plans off of. While your education was extensive and complex, you’ll find that you have so much more to learn as you work in your new dental home. School was a baseline, and now is the time to combine that knowledge with on-the-job experience. While you might find a mentor at your new workplace, if you’re a solo hygienist, who may need an outside cheerleader and influence to encourage you. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help!

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ADHA has a webpage designed for new grads—ADHA New Professional Resources.1 It provides access to many resources, from webinars to advice to career tips. Do not overlook ADHA as a valuable source on your new career path. It’s hands down one of the most significant memberships you can invest in for your career success. Attend a local or state meeting, get involved, and you’ll find that you have a built-in family awaiting your arrival!

Are you acting ethically?

You might recall that during school you were expected to meet various checks and balances to treat your patients. Your instructors guided you in certain practices so you could meet these standards, which helped toward attaining licensure and followed you into your practice of dental hygiene.

Each hygienist will practice in different settings. Some may need to meet governmental regulations, while others may focus upon corporate foundational aspects. No matter the setting, your hygiene foundation should not be forgotten. It can accompany you in practicing ethically so you don’t blindly follow subpar or poor practices.

Doing what’s right is ethically correct, and while each hygienist wants to believe they’re acting ethically, they may find themselves in a position that forces them to choose wrong. This could include insurance fraud, not offering all treatment options to patients, treating without informed consent, and even treating periodontal disease with a preventive prophy.

Unfortunately, you will likely encounter dental practices that operate unethically; however, it is up to you to make the right choice for your license and practice. Consider discussing situations that you deem unethical with a seasoned hygienist. You could also pursue continuing education to stay up to date on ethics. With guidance, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the situations to determine how to approach any breach of ethics scenario with your boss or HR department. You may also recognize the need to report some actions to the state board of dentistry. After all, you’re now a licensed professional who should act in the best interest of the public.2

Practice self-care

It’s not unusual for new hygienists to go pedal to the metal beginning their first day. Many feel they have something to prove; however, brand new clinicians are not expected to have all the answers and do everything meticulously right away. You’re going through many changes and adaptations from school to a professional setting.

Your brain synapses will be firing all day long, causing physical, mental, and emotional fatigue; therefore, develop a plan for self-care. Take a walk outside at lunch. Drink enough water to stay hydrated during the fast pace of dental practice. Prepare nutritious lunches rather than eating out. Exercise before or after work. Invest in ergonomically appropriate tools and equipment. Recharge for the next day, week, month, and year. Even investing in the right pair of shoes is a form of self-care.

Because hygienists are caregivers, we put our patients before ourselves. The only person who can make sure you receive self-care is yourself, so do not skimp on this! Many seasoned hygienists skimped and learned the hard way that they need to take care of themselves, especially early in their careers. Some activities that hygienists turn to are yoga, stretching, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, counseling, and meditation. There are many options; it’s simply up to you to honor self-care commitments to ensure a long career.


  1. ADHA Membership. ADHA.org. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://mymembership.adha.org/members/membership/new_professional/members/membership/new_professional.aspx?
  2. ADHA Code of Ethics. ADHA.org. Accessed July 6, 2022. https://www.adha.org/resources-docs/ADHA_Code_of_Ethics.pdf

About the Author

Angela Grover, MA, BASDH, RDH

Angela Grover, MA, BSDH, RDH, graduated from Central Community College in 1996, obtained her BASDH from the Community College of Denver in 2018, and received her MA in organizational leadership from Buena Vista University in 2022. She is the founder of 360 Dental Navigations, which utilizes her expertise to create unique content for dental presentations and published articles for the dental industry. Angela is a webinar professional educator for Water Pik in the central time zone. Contact her at [email protected].

Updated January 20, 2022