The time is right to get to work. With unemployment at historically low levels in the United States, there are more opportunities in the dental arena. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the job outlook for dental hygienists is projected to grow 20 percent in the next 10 years1—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.2
If you’re preparing for dental hygiene clinical boards, reinstating or applying for a license, your odds in the marketplace are good. With the expansion of dental hygiene scope of practice in several states, there are more options than ever before.
If you don’t have a license
I frequently receive calls from hygienists exclaiming, “Help! I have a lapsed license and I don’t know how to reinstate it” or, “I’m moving to another state that requires retaking clinical boards, and I need a refresher.” Other common reasons I encounter for hygienists with a renewed interest in reinstating their license and re-entering the field include:
- Empty nesters who have more free time.
- People who realized they miss providing patient care.
- People who’ve experienced a change in marital status or caretaker responsibilities.
- An improved medical status lets them return to work.
Why would a hygienist let his or her license lapse? It could be intentional or an oversight.
Perhaps you thought your license was active, but it had lapsed. If this happens, notify your employer and take immediate action to reinstate it. Your employer may offer you another role in the practice until you remedy your expired-license status. For legal and malpractice reasons, you should not practice without an active license!
To renew a lapsed license:
- Find your most recent renewal date on the website of your state professional licensing department (or check your records). Under a category along the lines of “Dental Hygiene License Renewal” or “Reinstate a License,” the website will usually specify the process for reinstatement, generally in a checklist format.
- If you call, ask to speak with an authority handling dental hygiene licenses. Keep a record of your communication, including name, date, and conversation. Communicate with the same person every time for consistency. Ideally, keep an email record of communication.
- Depending on state rules and your circumstances, a refresher course and verification of competency may be indicated. Evidence of continuing education credits, CPR certification, letters from former employers, evidence of college transcripts, or National Board scores may be required. It’s best to create a checklist for the requirements and chip away at it.
- If your state requires continuing education to reinstate a license, verify if any mandates or specific types of courses or authorized providers are required. For example, New York state requires that a dental hygienist take a specific state-approved infection control course for compliance.3
Typically, states handle a lapsed license on a case-by-case basis, so one person’s experience to reinstate a license may be very different from the next.
If you need a refresher course:
Perhaps you’ll soon graduate, or are planning to move to a state that requires the Computer Simulated Clinical Examination (formerly the Prometric) or similar exam. Maybe you need a clinical update or refresher. How do you best prepare and get help?
The ADHA provides a directory of dental hygiene refresher courses, which allows you to review and compare the enrollment requirements and course features.
To help you select a course that is right for you, assess the value in terms of:
- Professional recognition (ADA) or state acceptance.
- Whether the provider is an established, reputable business.
- Credible instructors.
- Relevant course content.
- Method and variety of instruction.
- Program length and availability.
- Low student/teacher ratio.
- Other service benefits.
If you already have a license
It’s also common for me to hear, “My employer retired, but I still need to work. I didn’t realize how out of date I was!” The expression “you don’t know what you don’t know” comes to mind because hygienists often believe that they’re staying current until they change employment and discover otherwise.
If your dental office provides continuing education, make sure that the topics are relevant to the profession and specific to skills and knowledge enhancement.
From stories I’ve heard, my advice to you is to be responsible for renewing your own license. Don’t rely on others to do it for you! No one else understands the consequences of nonrenewal and therefore the impact on your livelihood. (This does happen, as explained to me by hygienists about what their husband, office manager or mother didn’t do.)
Pay attention to state laws and regulation changes, which vary from state to state.4 It’s incumbent upon you to stay informed; check your state dentistry board website for notices and changed laws. For example, Connecticut laws are passed each May and go into effect in the fall or following spring.5
If you need to brush up, what’s next? The ADHA compiles a link of each state’s continuing education requirements and scope of practice, which is helpful if you’re thinking about moving to another state.
In the event you choose to put your license on temporary suspension or inactive status, verify that you understand the rules for reactivation. Check periodically for any changes in law that may affect the ruling.
An RDH license is not typically portable6 (which is also true for dentists). It’s an arduous process to apply for a new license upon each move, so long before you move, find out how long it would take to be issued a license.
Other suggestions to avoid license renewal and continuing education problems:
- Mark your calendar with a repeat reminder for renewal alerts.
- Research online state or business services that will track your records and remind you of requirements.
- Create a home file for your license cycle in which you keep records of license and CPR expiry dates, malpractice policies, and continuing education credits.
- Notify your state dentistry board of any change of address or name change within 30 days to ensure you receive renewal notices.
- Display your license to remind you to stay current.
When I moved from Connecticut to Florida, the Florida Board of Dentistry required me to take the American Board of Dental Examiners clinical boards, a law exam and specific mandated continuing education, among other requirements. As much as I didn’t look forward to the process and expense, I did it because it was important to me personally and to my livelihood. Don’t let fear keep you from your dreams—do what you need to do!
Joyce Turcotte, RDH, MEd, FAADH, is the president of Professional Learning Services, an educational and consulting service established in 1987. Turcotte conducts dental hygiene refresher programs, Computer Simulated Clinical Examination prep and face-to-face continuing education courses. She has combined clinical practice and teaching at universities and colleges for decades, and is an adjunct faculty member in the Periodontics department of the College of Dental Medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.