Surviving in a saturated market

March 1, 2012
Increase marketability through enhanced job skills

Increase marketability through enhanced job skills

By Kimberly G. Bastin, CDA, EFDA, RDH, MS

Students’ interest in pursuing a career in a health-related field continues to rise. The trend can be attributed to several reasons, including the projection of needed health care workers by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). The BLS states “health care is experiencing rapid growth, due in large part to the aging of the baby-boom generation, which will require more medical care.”1 This is true, since an aging population requires more medical care, and the baby-boom generation makes up a large part of the current U.S. population.

The BLS lists the profession of dental hygiene as one of the top 20 fastest growing occupations.1 From the years 2008-2018, the number of new dental hygiene jobs will increase by 63,000.1 In 2009, a total of 173,900 dental hygienists were employed in the United States.1 The projection of jobs from 2008-2018 looks appealing; however, dental hygienists often experience difficulty finding jobs due to distribution problems. In addition to the distribution issues, it is estimated that 6,000 dentists retire annually while only 4,000 dental school graduates enter the workforce each year.2

Many new dental hygiene graduates have ambitions to work in private practice as clinical dental hygienists. It can be hard to find a clinical dental hygiene position in an area where the job market is saturated. The job market will often be saturated in areas where there are multiple or large dental hygiene programs. Many dental hygiene students come from varying areas in the state to pursue a degree in dental hygiene and decide to stay in the area of the dental hygiene program for a variety of reasons ranging from the attractiveness of the area where the dental hygiene school is located to the job location of a significant other. To increase the marketability of dental hygiene students wanting to pursue a career as a clinical dental hygienist, dental hygiene programs should look at avenues to assist students in attaining their goals.

Dental Hygiene Programs

Professional dental hygiene programs vary across the United States. Some programs offer certificates while other programs offer multiple degree options. To practice clinical dental hygiene, students need to complete only a certificate or associate’s degree program, successfully pass the dental hygiene national board examination, and complete the state licensure process for the state in which they plan to work. Other degree options such as a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree are advantageous when a graduate wants to pursue other employment options.

In 2008, there were 301 accredited dental hygiene programs in the United States.3 There has been an increase in the accredited dental hygiene programs from 301 in 2008 to 309 in 2009.3 It is likely that there will continue to be an increase in accredited dental hygiene programs in an effort to provide education to individuals in order to fill the projected 63,000 new jobs.

Marketability and Skills

Dental hygiene students envision graduating from a dental hygiene program and securing a job that provides treatment to patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. This may be a possibility for students on a part-time basis but positions for full-time hygienists are not as readily available. Some students are content with with part-time positions while others need to secure full-time positions in order to support families or pay back student loans. In order for students to secure full-time positions upon graduation, they need to look at additional clinical opportunities.

Many practicing hygienists in varying states, for example, have been able to administer local anesthesia for quite some time. The state of Indiana just recently adopted the state rules and statutes allowing dental hygienists to administer local anesthesia. New graduates in the state of Indiana have the knowledge and skill required to administer local anesthesia upon employment in a dental practice. This could be an opportunity for new hygienists to secure full-time positions as hygiene anesthetists. The anesthesia hygienist would administer local anesthesia to patients prior to their receiving dental treatment with the dentist. Having the hygienist administer local anesthesia to patients would increase production by allowing the dentist to provide treatment more quickly and not be required to spend valuable time administering or waiting for anesthesia to take effect. An added bonus to having a license to administer anesthesia is that the dental hygienist would be capable of administering anesthesia to patients requiring periodontal therapy. This would decrease or eliminate the need for dentists to provide anesthesia to these patients and increase their production by allowing them to remain in the operatory providing restorative dental treatment.

State laws vary for the practice of expanded functions. On average, 17.2% to 25.5% of dental hygiene programs across the United States are teaching expanded functions dental assisting for clinical competency.3

Possessing the skill to practice expanded functions will again increase the opportunities for a new hygienist to secure a full-time position. The BLS states, “As health care continues to rise, work is increasingly being delegated to lower paid workers in order to cut costs. Tasks that were previously performed by dentists are being performed by dental hygienists.”1

Dental hygiene students enrolled in the expanded functions dental assisting courses are trained to place and carve amalgam, composite, and temporary restorations. They experience placing the dental dam multiple times in a variety of situations. The students also place bases, liners, and polish amalgam and composite restorations.

Pairing the administration of local anesthesia with expanded functions can be a valuable asset to a dental hygienist. A dental hygienist could administer local anesthesia, the dentist prepare a patient’s teeth for required restorative treatment, and the hygienist complete the procedure by placing the restoration. This particular situation would be a beneficial situation for both the dentist and the dental hygienist. The hygienist would become a valuable member of the dental team and hopefully secure full-time employment while the dentist would increase production and be able to provide treatment to an increased number of patients.

As new graduates enter into the workforce and pursue their life-long dream of becoming clinical hygienists, they sometimes realize there is more to clinical practice than providing dental hygiene treatment on a continual basis. By providing students with the opportunity to pursue the knowledge and skill of expanded functions, the hope is that they seek opportunities to practice in both venues as clinical dental hygienists and expanded functions dental hygienists. Variance in the workday and week could prove to be beneficial for career longevity as a dental hygienist. SF

Kimberly G. Bastin, CDA, EFDA, RDH, MS, practiced clinically as a dental assistant and dental hygienist for over seven years before joining the faculty of the University of Southern Indiana as the director of dental assisting. As the director of dental assisting, she was responsible for numerous didactic and clinical teaching responsibilities in both the dental assisting and dental hygiene programs. She is an active member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and American Dental Assisting Association, where she has held a variety of leadership positions at the component and state levels since 1999. Presently, she is the director of dental hygiene at Sanford-Brown Institute in Jacksonville, Fla.


1. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (2011). Retrieved March 5, 2011, from
2. National Rural Health Association (2005). Recruitment and Retention of a Quality Health Workforce in Rural Areas.
3. American Dental Association (2011). 2009-2010 Survey of Allied Dental Education. Chicago, IL: American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation.
4. American Dental Association (2011). 2008-2009 Survey of Dental Education. Chicago, IL: American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation.

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