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Could I become a dental hygienist before continuing school to become a classified dentist?

I am a sophomore in high school and I have an interest in the dentistry career. I would like to know if it is possible to become a dental hygienist after two years of college, start a career as a dental hygienist, and continue schooling to achieve a doctorate degree. How long will it approximately take to achieve my degree? #dentistry #dentist #dental-hygienist #dental #dental-school


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Steven’s Answer

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I will assume that you are writing from the United States. Dental hygiene programs have traditionally been associate (2-year) degrees, but some programs offer a bachelor's degree, and may take longer than 2 years.
While I think it is possible to gain entry to a dental school without a baccalaureate degree, from a practical standpoint almost all students entering dental school have graduated from a senior (4-year) college. Regulations may differ somewhat from state to state and school to school, so you should check the websites of dental schools you would consider going to. You may need to go back to school if you have not fulfilled all the prerequisites for dental school admission.
Certainly some hygienists have gone on to dental school--I know at least one of my classmates had been a hygienist before going to dental school. I would think that having a dental hygiene background would be looked on very favorably by dental school admissions committees. You will certainly have far more experience actually working in a dental office (or other clinical setting) than most other aspiring dental students.

You cannot rule out the possibility that you will discover as a dental hygienist that you really don't like clinical dentistry. You may then decide that you either feel more like pursuing a career in academia or research--either within dental hygiene, or dentistry, or in another field altogether. Having this level of experience and knowledge at an earlier age will benefit you in ways you might not be able to anticipate.
Good luck to you!


Thank you very much! You helped me out a lot! Sarah K.

Could you please tell me how many years would it take to become a dentist,jumping from a dentist hygienist profession. Karan S.

Thanks for sharing. So I could become and work as a dental hygienist while going to dental school ? Harrison B.

Hi Steven! Thank you so much for the amazing advice you provided to Sarah above! I had a few questions out of curiosity that I wanted to ask you: 1. Can you talk a little bit more about your experience becoming a classified dentist? How many years of school did you attend, and what specific path did you take? 2. Are there any next steps one might take to see if he/she/they liked clinical dentistry? Any online resources would be great to see! Thank you so much in advance! Best, David David Ohta COACH

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Aviva’s Answer

I agree with the two professionals answering your question listed above. However I did notice a profound dislike of the Admissions Committee when I went to dental school "92-'96 AGAINST the "lesser trained" professionals. Like the Dr. above, I knew one person who had gotten into dental school who was a hygienist, and two who were dental techs. The doctors giving the instruction in dental school really don't like being second-guessed by someone who has already worked in a dental office. There were repeated applicants who were refused admission in favor of the children, nieces and nephews of practicing dentists, or people coming from other fields rather than hygienists or dental assistants. It was a very real and surprising (to me) prejudice against admitting anyone familiar with dental practices prior to dental school admission. Better to come in with a background in some science or public health application (for example, I taught science and had a laser license) than dental hygiene. In and of itself Dental Hygiene is a great career path, without the overhead and costs of dental school, and lots of flexibility in finding the working hours that permit you to do what you like, when you like. Good luck!


Hi.. I am currently a dental hygiene student and working on my BS in dental hygiene to get into dental school. (I was a dental tech before, and a dental assistant), I think having rejections from dental school just because some body have a dental background is so unethical .. the doctors there would be so insecure if they have to do so, I think that's a disappointing and messed up 😣 Jomana A.

I agree with you 100%, it is 'disappointing and messed up'. See my second post below (?) as it is too long for this comment space. Aviva Andreen

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Aviva’s Answer

I agree with you 100%, it is 'disappointing and messed up'. I am telling you what I saw, going to dental school as a second (maybe 3rd or 4th career path ie a grown-up with life experience compared to most of my classmates). I was also an academic both prior to dental school and after in several dental schools and post-grad dental programs. What I saw was that one or two new admission spots went to dental school applicants who had some prior experience as dental assistants, or hygienists or dental techs - and ONLY one or two spots. I hope that your experience as all three, will help you get one of those elusive spots!!! Enthusiasm for the field will carry the day for you, as long as you don't let on that you fear that there is a prejudice against the "lesser professionals" in the field. Use it as your strength in applying, that you love it so much you have worked so hard for it. And as Dr. Bornfield noted, you need to complete all of the requirements for dental school - with the highest grades in your class!!! (This includes Physics, Statistics, Organic Chemistry, and Calculus and more). Nearly everyone of my dental school classmates went into shock after the first examinations in dental school - they were all used to being at the top of their class, but suddenly they were in a group of people just as smart as they were and most of them got the first 'B', 'C', or even 'D' they had ever received in their short lives (I was 40 years old and had perspective to view this with). If you are not competitive with these academic skills, you will not be accepted to dental school just because you know the dental office. And if you are accepted, you will have to be ready to compete at a level you have never known before - or you will be cut from the class after the first gross anatomy exam. About 10% of my class was cut after the first exams. It is an environment that is not for the feint of heart. Most dentists have nightmares about dental school for years to come afterwards. It is hellish compared to medical school - where if you are admitted, they now try to coddle you more - whereas in dental school you are taking all the first two years of medical school courses PLUS dental laboratory requirements. Part of the learning experience in both medical and dental school is learning to prioritize ... by being thrown into a hellish academic overload that is truely impossible. You will get more counseling if you go to medical school. Of course, you'll have to like to read and understand lab reports all day and listen to people complain all day unless you become a surgeon. As a Doctor of Dental Surgery, you can't get your job done unless the patient stops talking, literally. "I like to work with my hands" is the most common phrase heard by the admissions committee. This is also true at the post-graduate level, where, as Chief Resident I sat in on the admissions interviews, I also taught in several facilities and later headed a GPR program myself. If you really love dentistry, and need to be the one to give the orders, and can get through the gauntelet of the process to become a dentist, you belong there. But if you have any doubts at all, follow Dr. Bornfield's advice and look into academics and or research to apply your studies and interests in dentistry. I assume your poor English is a result of staying up too late on the computer. Don't let anyone in dentistry see written or spoken English like this as it will give them an excuse to reject you. Get the grades, recommendations, and ace the interviews - use reviewers for your applications and practice interviews. Do stuff out of the ordinary to set you apart, like join Mensa. Incidentally, there are more medical schools out there than there are dental schools so you are competing harder for placement in dental school... good luck!


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Esther’s Answer

Dr. Bornfield's advice is correct. Keep in mind too that if you need to finish school in about 2 years and start working right away to make some money, you can always finish your bachelor's degree online and get a BAS before applying to dental school. At the same time, follow the Dr's advice and in the process, be some to complete any of the required courses that a dental school will want to see.


Thanks for sharing. So I can finish my bachelors for dental school online with any college while working as a dental hygienist? Also am in my 40's, any age limits? Just need some advice Harrison B.

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Madiha’s Answer

Many internationally trained dentist do this to improve their CV

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