The invaluable RDH: The key to good hygiene and good business

Dental patients understand that a Registered Dental Hygienist does more than clean teeth. Dental practice owners know that RDHs are a big source of their revenue. Working as an RDH is really one part oral hygiene and one part business. If you’re currently an RDH or are thinking about becoming one, here are some things to consider while you ponder your next career move.

RDH definition

The Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists’ Association defines the role of dental hygienists: “Dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals who focus on preventing and treating oral diseases—both to protect teeth and gums, and also to protect patients’ total health.” That’s a decent summary, but RDHs and RDH students know that there’s much more to it. The world of dental hygiene is bigger than performing clinical tasks as a licensed dental professional.

RDHs are an important part of a dentist’s supporting team. They’re largely responsible for the success of the dental practice. Preventive care, periodontal charting and assisting the dentist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of oral disease are only part of the picture.

RDH definition what you need to know >>

Dental hygienist vs. dentist

The dental hygiene profession is in the same field as general dentistry, but RDH jobs and dentist jobs are quite different. In most dental practices, dental hygienists do the bulk of preventative oral healthcare. As mentioned above, they support the dental practice by performing cleaning procedures, inspecting teeth for problems and counseling patients on their oral health. Hygienists are critical to the success of any dental practice. They are responsible for carrying out day-to-day operations, patient care and a great deal of customer service and PR.

While all of these jobs can be carried out by a dentist, most practices have registered dental hygienists do them. Having an RDH in charge of such crucial tasks improves patient care and the functionality of  the practice.

While some RDHs and dental assistants work as ancillary dental workers as they study to become dentists, many choose dental hygiene as a permanent career. They may continue as RDHs, take on expanded functions, enter academia or share their expertise as instructors or consultants.

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A typical path to becoming an RDH begins with graduating high school and an associate or bachelor degree program. Candidates then enter an RDH program, which may have prerequisites that include certain science courses. The course of study includes both classroom instruction and hands-on experience. Graduates must pass licensing exams and meet other state requirements to become fully qualified dental hygienists.

Full-time, part-time, and temporary dental hygienists

Once an RDH has become fully licensed, it’s time to find a job. Some newly licensed RDHs have a specific type of position in mind and go for it. Others are open to various possibilities.

Full-time work is a common goal because of its stability and benefits. Some find that full-time work is difficult to get in their areas, so they go part time or temp. RDH temp jobs can lead to more permanent work, and many people use them as a stepping stone. On the other hand, a growing number of hygienists prefer temporary work. Traveling and temporary RDHs have the ability to work the hours and locations they prefer.

Whatever their reasons, some RDHs work through temp agencies for dental hygienists. Others manage their own careers through online job-matching platforms like Cloud Dentistry because of the flexibility and control such tools offer.

Traveling dental hygienists

Many licensed dental hygienists work in private practices, clinics or other permanent situations. But the economy and the way we work is rapidly changing. With that comes a different type of dental hygienist: the traveling RDH.

In some states, traveling dental hygienists are in charge of their own careers, working independently within various dental practices. They build their own work schedules and set their own rates with private practice owners as their clients.

Dental hygienists have a bit more freedom in other states. Georgia, for example, recently passed legislation allowing RDHs to perform certain services without having a dentist physically present in the building, as the law previously required. Such arrangements give traveling dental hygienists the freedom to practice in dentists’ offices or more independently.

Travel can mean within your home state or even in other states. If you want to do work in more than one state, you’ll need a license for each state you want to work in. Some states have reciprocity agreements, so a single license may be valid in more than one state.

RDH job outlook

US News & World Report ranks dental hygienist as number three on its list of best healthcare-support jobs. “The job market for dental hygienists is booming,” the news outlet reports. The site chalks that success up to an increased awareness of dental health among the general public.

Because the dental hygiene profession is so important and serves everyone, the job outlook is good. As the population expands, the demand for dental services will continue to rise. That means the RDH will always be relevant, and more RDHs will be needed in the future.

Finding RDH jobs

An RDH looking for work has many options. Mailing (or hand delivering) resumes can reap big rewards if you’re in the right place at the right time. For most applicants, however, the search must go beyond a few select offices.

Job placement agencies can be extremely helpful in landing an RDH position. One option is a general placement agency or a general temp agency. These organizations may have a long list of practices that they work with. Use caution, however. Working with a general placement or temp agency may mean answering to people who are more concerned with business than dentistry. (Imagine showing up for what you think is an RDH job only to find that you’re assigned to billing tasks.) Many of these agencies have medical departments, but the risk of misunderstandings is high.

Another option is a specialized dental placement agency or temp agency for dental hygienists. These services are often run by dental practice owners or other professionals with experience in the dental industry. You’re more likely to deal with people who know the industry and can make good matches. In addition, you may have access to more dental practices than you would with a general agency.

So, what’s the best place to find RDH temp work or traveling RDH work? Actually, it’s not through a job placement agency or an RDH temp agency. Dental hygienists now have access to a revolutionary job-matching platform that gives them more control over their careers. Cloud Dentistry allows hygienists to work for themselves instead of for an RDH temp agency. You can use your free profile to set your hourly rate, share your availability and build your brand online. Dental practices that need an RDH will be able to view your profile and communicate directly with you. You’ll work where and when you want to.

You can also earn more than you would working for an RDH temp agency. Temp agencies for dental hygienists charge practices high fees. Cloud Dentistry attracts practices because it’s easy to use and costs less. When there’s no middleman to pay, the money that would normally go to an agency goes to you instead.

Read: dental hygienist employment is booming

We’re here to help

RDHs are incredibly important to dentistry, and we recognize that. We also know how to support you in ways no temp agency can. Maybe you want to work as a temp just a few hours a week. Maybe you want to take on a longer temporary assignment or get your foot in the door for a full-time position. Whatever your goals, the Cloud Dentistry platform puts you in control. Get started today with your free profile.

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