Amanda Fouts, RDH, BSDH
I have over 10 years of experience in the dental field as a Dental Hygienist, Dental Hygiene Educator, Dental Assistant, and Sterile Tech. I am a Tennessee native who has developed strong roots in the dental community.
In 2019, there were 215,150 dental hygienists in the U.S., with 7,300 students graduating annually from dental hygiene school. To say we are a growing profession would be an understatement.
Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.
So aside from clinical dental hygiene, what career options do we have? It only seems fair that with over 7,000 hygiene graduates annually, finding a full-time job in hygiene might be more difficult. Let’s explore our options in hygiene outside of the op!
Where the Skills Translate
Our education in dental hygiene can prepare us with knowledge and skills to explore a growing number of career paths in dental hygiene. Dental hygienists can work in a variety of settings, including public health, schools, consulting, corporate environments, non-profits, clinical education and even dental sales. As dental hygienists, we can use our dental hygiene education in settings outside the op.
First let’s discuss what’s known as “burnout.” Everyone in our career field knows exactly what I am referring to: the hygienists who have been working for years, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., doing 40-minute prophy appointments with no problem at all and seldom taking a lunch break. They hustle through their day and have patients on a waitlist to see them.
Patients love them; these hygienists have been seeing the same patients for years, and know about their families, careers and lives. It isn’t a bad thing at all, but I am sure these hygienists are “tired of hygiene.”
So for these hygienists specifically, let’s explore what “outside the op” looks like.
Taking It Outside
I don’t know about you, but as a hygienist I love to talk, learn new things and socialize on all levels. I feel when I am fortunate to meet other hygienists, they’re usually very similar.
So when we’re exploring more career paths in addition to clinical dental hygiene, we have a lot to offer!
Public health is something I am personally very passionate about. Helping others is something we do every day in the op. We provide a service to patients that improves the public’s oral health, as well as overall health. Why not take that out in the world?
Networking is a huge part of establishing these new career paths. Being a lifetime member of the American Dental Hygiene Association is something I am very proud of. and I encourage everyone to join.
Being a part of an organization committed to your profession is such a rewarding accomplishment in itself. The ADHA is always there for dental hygienists. It also has local components where we can earn continuing education hours, see new products, and – most importantly – network with other dental hygienists.
Don’t Wait to Burn Out
After making these hygiene connections, you will see the door to new opportunities beyond the op start forming, and you can start deciding which ones are for you. For example, I’ve been practicing dental hygiene since 2012, and before that I worked as a dental assistant and sterile tech while in undergrad starting in 2009.
So in 2017, after being in a dental op for over 8 years, I decided to take a look outside the op. I love my patients, and working clinically is all I’ve ever known. After a few weeks of exploring my options outside of clinical dental hygiene, I realized there was no predetermined path that will take us to the perfect career in hygiene.
Knowing I wanted to explore my options outside the op, I cut back to only seeing patients 3 days a week. This was hard for me. I had worked clinical dental hygiene 5, even 6 days a week for over 5 years and was starting to feel the burnout. We all know our limits.
Get Out There
I started with my network of dental hygiene peers, getting more involved with the ADHA, and even attending more continuing education hours to start learning new advancements in our profession.
As secretary of our local dental hygiene component since 2015, I had sent enough emails to know who my “outside of the op” hygienists were. So I started reaching out. I started to think about being a dental hygiene instructor, but learned that is more of a full-time position, and I didn’t want to give up my patients just yet.
Instead, I volunteered with the students as I could, and volunteered at a non-profit for mission days, Friday hours, anything they needed – and absolutely loved it! I loved being “outside the op,” but still doing dental hygiene. Every week I was exploring a different path in dental hygiene.
A Hygiene Dream Come True
Still working 3 days a week clinically and searching for my new path, dental hygiene kept me intrigued. At the beginning of 2018, one of my dental peers reached out to me with an opportunity in dental hygiene, and I was the first person she called.
For this opportunity, you were required to work clinically part-time, and set aside two days a week to do education. It was like a hygiene dream come true! I started the interview process and by March 2018, I was a clinical representative for a dental company, as well as seeing my patients.
I could finally say I was working outside the op and loving it!
So fast forward to 2021. I am currently still practicing dental hygiene 3 days a week, working as a clinical representative as much as I can, and I am the president of our local dental hygiene component.
Dental hygiene is my passion, and I love all areas of my profession. Thinking outside the op was a great move for me. Nothing happens overnight, but dental hygienists can do anything we set out to do. I’m beyond proud to be a dental hygienist, and to grow as a professional every day in this growing profession.
So I challenge all my dental hygiene peers to go outside of the op and take the risk. It’s a combination of keeping your head up, using your connections to connect the dots, and most of all, being ready to take a chance when the opportunity comes knocking at your door.
Start exploring – who knows where your hygiene journey will take you!