Can a Felon Become a Dental Hygienist?

Felons before their conviction often wanted a career in the medical field.  That conviction may have put an end to many of those aspirations.

That doesn’t have to be the case, however.  It isn’t an easy road, but it can be done.

This blog post will look at the question of whether a felon can become a dental hygienist.

  • What is a Dental Hygienist?
  • What Education Does a Dental Hygienist Need?
  • Application Process
  • Licensing Requirements
  • How Much Does a Dental Hygienist Earn?
  • Giving Themselves the Best Chance
  • Supporting a Felon in Becoming a Dental Hygienist

What Is a Dental Hygienist?

When going to the dentist in prison, felons may recall their experience when having their teeth cleaned.

Was that a dental assistant or a dental hygienist who worked on them?

There is a difference in the roles and a difference in the type of education and training required for either of these positions.

A dental hygienist is a person who typically has an Associate’s Degree in Dental Hygiene and has been educated and trained at a school for Dental Hygienists and is licensed.  A dental assistant is an entry level position with certain educational but no license requirements.

The role of a hygienist is to clean teeth, examine patients for oral disease, and educate them on how to maintain good oral health.

The dental hygienist provides preventative oral care working with a dentist.

The following are typical duties:

  • Complete initial exam on new patients
  • Take dental X-rays
  • Educate patients on treatment
  • Clean teeth
  • Examine patients for oral disease
  • Administer local anesthetics
  • Chart condition and treatment
  • Stock supplies and maintain equipment

There are certain soft skills necessary to be a dental hygienist:

  • Compassion – Desire to help people
  • Attention to Detail – Detecting potential dental problems during an exam
  • Manual dexterity – Excellent fine motor skills for handling instruments
  • Interpersonal skills – Ability to relate to people and put patients at ease
  • Physical stamina – Ability to stand and bend over patients for a length of time

What Education Does a Dental Hygienist Need?

Each state requires a license to become a dental hygienist with guidelines set by that state.

Typically, each person must complete an associate degree in dental hygiene from an accredited dental hygiene program.

There are about 300 programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation within the American Dental Association and take approximately three years to complete.

Most programs can be found at community colleges, dental schools, technical institutions and universities, and online.

Application Process

For whatever hygienist program felons may consider, there is an application process which will require a background check.

Each program may only look at their record for the past seven years.  Some programs will not accept applicants convicted of certain types of felonies, usually those involving crimes of violence or sex.

Other programs will ban anyone with a felony conviction.

In addition to felony convictions, those felons with misdemeanors involving harassment or domestic violence will likely be rejected.

The concern about background relates to the dental hygienist’s interaction with the public and patient safety issues.

Having a felony conviction may not prevent one from being accepted by an accredited hygienist program.  The challenge comes in obtaining the state license.

Licensing Requirements

They must also pass a written and clinical licensing exam offered by the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations.

Typical state requirements include:

  • Being of good moral character
  • Passing the written and clinical American Dental Hygiene Licensing Exam
  • Passing the national board exam given by the Council of National Boards of the American Dental Association

The American Dental Hygienist Association (ADHA) indicates, “Most states conduct a background check on a case by case basis, and may take into consideration the seriousness of the offense and other factors in making the decision to grant licensure.”

It depends on each state.  Felons are advised to check with the ADHA in the state where they would reside after becoming a dental hygienist before applying for licensure in that state.

How Much Does a Dental Hygienist Earn?

Recent statistics show more than 200,000 dental hygienists work in the field with more needed.  So, there is opportunity.

Current estimates reflect that with the interest in health care, including dental care, dental hygienists are in high demand in the healthcare field.  The number of hygienists is expected to increase by 19% by 2024.

Almost 95% of dental hygienists work in a dentist’s office.  Salaries vary according to the region of the country with the highest amounts earned in states on the West coast.

The salary range for dental hygienists is $60,000 to $79,000 with a median salary of $70,000.

Giving Themselves the Best Chance

In order to be successful in this pursuit, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background.

They are already working with the often negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Remember there are many success stories, as the Guide to Being Employed, reveals, showing how having a goal, commitment, dedication, and perseverance can assist felons in achieving their dream of working in the healthcare profession.

There are re-entry programs, such as drug treatment, educational opportunities, and the ability to acquire loans to finance that education.

Supporting a Felon in Becoming a Dental Hygienist

For families of felons wanting to pursue a dream of becoming a dental hygienist, encourage your loved one and support their efforts to live an honest life, change their lifestyle, and keep their dreams alive.

Your family member is worth making the effort for, if they are sincere in their desire to become a dental hygienist.

Help them realize their ambition no matter how difficult the road might be.

What do you think about this blog post?  Are you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a dental hygienist with a felony?  What was that like for them, and how did they achieve success?  Please tell us in the comments below.


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  • I’m about to go to jail for a charge 2 and 1/2 years ago and have several felonies for drugs all possession under a gram and theft under $50. Now this case is robbery for 2 sports bras and I’m getting 4 years. When I get out I want to be a dental hygienist but will I make it all the way with these charges? Will anybody hire me you think?

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