Th Impact Your 01

Impact Your Profession…Mentor!

Sept. 1, 2008
Mentoring prospective students can be beneficial since the majority of graduates are employed in private practice offices.
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Mentoring prospective students can be beneficial since the majority of graduates are employed in private practice offices.

by Jacqueline N. Brian, LDH, MSEd, and Emma Henderson, LDH, MSEd

Remember waiting to hear if you were accepted into the dental hygiene program of your choice? Were your grades good enough? Did you have sufficient community service? Were your letters of recommendation top notch? Were your high school science grades better than average? Did your interview go well? These and probably many other questions ran endlessly through your mind. Once you were accepted into the program, these issues became obscure and your focus shifted to perio, public health, and pharmacology, until you were a practicing hygienist and a patient asked you about the profession. We as professionals are the most likely people from whom prospective students can seek advice.1,2 We are our profession’s biggest advocates. Mentoring is a crucial part of our dental hygiene career. Are you prepared and well enough informed to provide useful and accurate information to prospective students?

Dental hygiene faculty members are academic counselors for prospective hygiene students, but who encourages and sends students to these programs? Often, people who are interested in careers in dentistry seek advice from their dentist or hygienist, and they rely on these professionals for honest, useful advice. Often, by the time a student receives academic advice, he or she has talked to and observed a dentist or hygienist at work. The prospective student has been told about the advantages and disadvantages of the job, the perks, and the competitiveness. But what about the intricate part of the career — the admission process? Can the dental professional give quality advice in this important area?

According to the 2006-07 ADA Survey of Allied Dental Education, there has been an enrollment increase in dental hygiene programs during the past 10 to 12 years, including a 5.6% increase in 2006-07.3 This means that becoming a qualified applicant has become more competitive, which results in the need for timely information and advanced preparation for potential applicants.

Mentoring prospective dental hygiene students can be beneficial to students and rewarding for dental professionals since the majority of dental hygiene graduates are employed in private practice offices.3 Encouraging students during their early years in high school can help prepare them for the sometimes grueling prerequisite year. It is the dental professional who meets and greets these students early in the process and gives them the encouragement and advice necessary to be successful.

In the spring of 2008, a survey of the entry-level accredited dental hygiene programs was conducted to gather information for improving admission criteria, and to give dental professionals accurate and up-to-date information on trends in the admission process. According to the survey, dental hygiene programs across the country vary, but not to the extent that one might think. One aspect that has not changed is that the majority of programs (80%) are still associate degree programs. Bachelor degree programs are being developed, but associate degree programs are still prevalent.3,4

The favored criteria for admission continues to be the prerequisite college course grades, with emphasis on science courses.These courses consist predominately of :

  • Chemistry
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • English Composition
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Math

The GPA range requirements are from at least 2.5 to 3.2 on a 4 point scale.4 With these trends remaining fairly constant, high school science classes should be strongly recommended and encouraged. Most associate degree programs report that high science scores are an advantage in their admission process.

Approximately 18% consider work experience in a dental office. One third of the dental hygiene programs consider personal interviews to be an integral part of their selection process.4 By relaying this information to prospective students, professionals help students understand the discipline and hard work necessary to achieve admission into a dental hygiene program.

RDH readers can nominate their mentor for an award. Go to and look for the button above. The deadline for the Philips Sonicare/RDH Mentor of the Year is Sept. 26, 2008. For more information, review the related advertisement on page 75.
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Diversity is the buzzword in the educational realm today. Despite diversification goals set by dental hygiene programs, the applicant pool continues to be predominantly Caucasian female (89%).3,4 The conclusion from a survey collected by the ADA in 2006-07 reports that only 19% of dental hygiene students were non-white and 3% were male.3 This suggests that minority representation in dental hygiene schools is still low. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau reflects that the racial minority populations will double sometime in the 21st century. According to Dr. Sinkford at the ADA Outreach Forum in April, 2006, the black and Hispanic populations are growing.5

Most programs are aware of the need to diversify and focus their recruitment efforts to increase enrollment numbers (males, blacks, Hispanics). As a practicing dental professional, this is important information to relay to prospective students. With the strong movement trying to better serve areas of poverty, abuse, and other misfortunes, it is part of our professional responsibility to encourage care in these areas. By mentoring young and enthusiastic individuals via high school career day or “Give Kids A Smile,” we can aid in the recruitment of underrepresented minorities (URM) and hopefully provide better oral health care for these underserved populations.

Another buzzword is the “millennial” student. These students are generally 26 years old or younger and characterized as achievers, very bright, and having increased proficiency in math and science. Many of them are pressured to study hard and succeed. Being racially and ethnically diverse and service-oriented gives them an edge in the pursuit of access-to-care issues in underserved populations. Close to half of the dental hygiene students in the United States are 23 years old or younger, and the majority of dental hygiene graduates are under the age of 29.3 With this information in mind, dental hygiene professionals who are confronted with mentoring issues can be better prepared to educate and encourage the racially diverse population of 2008.

The Pew Health Professions Commission5,6 reports that the students who come from medically underserved communities demonstrate a great willingness to return to those communities to practice. By knowing the language and cultural mores of the population they serve, they offer more complete and effective care.

The U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008-09 reports that dental hygiene jobs are expected to increase by 30% through the year 2016. This projected growth ranks dental hygiene among the fastest growing health care occupations due to increasing demands for dental care. Job prospects are expected to remain excellent.7

With this encouraging news, we, as dental care professionals, need to stay current on trends in the dental education field, and mentor interested individuals toward a career with strong potential. Caring for the oral health and well-being of every individual is our calling in this profession. Mentoring helps us fulfill this obligation and in turn enables even the less fortunate an opportunity for dental care.


  1. Wassel JR, Mauriello SM, Weintraub JA. Factors influencing the selection of dental hygiene as a profession. Journal of Dental Hygiene 1992; 66(2): 81-8.
  2. DeVore PL, Whitacre HL, Cox SS. Selection of dental hygiene compared with baccalaureate students. Focus Ohio Dental 1993; 67 (1): 2-3.
  3. American Dental Association 2006-07 Survey of Allied Dental Education. Chicago: American Dental Association; 2008.
  4. Brian JN, Henderson EG. “Dental Hygiene Applicant Selection Survey.” 01 May 2008. Https://, April 2008.
  5. Fox K. Forum Looks at Increasing Diversity in Dental Profession. Https:// archive/news 06.
  6. Helm DM, Grabarek ES, Reveal M. Increasing Dental Hygiene Student Diversity. Journal of Allied Health, 2003: Winter.
  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007), 2008-09 Occupational Outlook Handbook, (18 December, 2007).

About the Author

Jacqueline N. Brian, LDH, MSEd, is a professor of dental hygiene at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Emma Henderson, LDH, MSEd, is the co-author.