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I recently sat down with UNC alum, Nirali Patel, to discuss the dental hygiene profession. Nirali graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014 with a B.S. in Dental Hygiene. She currently works as a dental hygienist for a private dental practice in Creedmoor, North Carolina.

What is your exact title?

Dental Hygienist

What was your major in college?

Dental Hygiene

What are the educational requirements for this job?

Associates or bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene.

What other types of credentials or licenses are required?

In order to be licensed in NC, you have to take and national and state board exam. The national exam is about 8 hours and the state exam is a clinical exam. In addition to this, you have to take the jurisprudence test, which tests your knowledge on the governing laws and requirements of the dental hygienist.

Could you describe your average workday and your key responsibilities?

I start my day by setting up my operatory for my first patient. I make sure my room is stocked with all the supplies I will need for the day. I then review my first patient’s chart. Throughout the day, I meet with patients where I review their medical history, take x-rays if needed, and provide their appropriate treatment to address their periodontal needs.

What kind of hours do you normally work?

8am-5pm (8 hours a day with a 1-hour break for lunch)

What are the various jobs in this field or organization?

In this field there are a variety of opportunities available. Some dental hygienists work as a clinical dental hygienist, a researcher, a product or sales representative, or an educator.

What experiences best prepared you for your job?

In high school I started off by volunteering at a local hospital. This experience confirmed my interest in working in healthcare. In the Dental Hygiene program at UNC, there were several activities that helped prepare me for this job including seeing patients in the student clinic and volunteering at a SHAC dental clinic.

What is a SHAC clinic?

Student Health Action Coalition. The dental SHAC clinic provides free dental service to patients in the community and it was based on a lottery system.

Which seasons of the year are toughest in your job?

There’s not really a tough season, because we schedule appointments based on time. However, I have found in private practice, more patients would like to come in for preventive services around holidays and popular vacation times so they don’t have to miss school or take off from work.

When people leave this career, what are the usual reasons?

From what I’ve seen and heard, some will leave the profession due to back, neck, or wrist problems due to the physical aspect of the job.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy educating my patients about improving their oral health and seeing those improvements over time.

What is your least favorite part of your job?

When patients don’t follow through with our recommendations despite us explaining the problem is present and why it should be fixed and not ignored.

What surprised you the most when you started working in this field?

I was surprised by how much people don’t know about the importance of oral health. With research now, it shows that oral health is related to our systemic health; however, many today are still not aware of the correlation.

What professional journals and organizations should I be aware of?

American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) is the national organization. This organization has several local chapters in each state where you can go for meetings where they offer continuing education courses and networking opportunities. ADHA also provide news on legislation related to dental hygiene.

What skills, talents, and personal qualities are most essential in this job?

Patience, compassion, and detail-oriented are three skills I have found to be very crucial and helpful in my profession. Communication is also an important skill to have because you often are a liaison between the dentist and the patient.

What kind of experiences (paid employment or other) would you strongly recommend?

I would recommend volunteering at local health clinics or community events.

How do people find out about jobs in this field? How are they advertised, or is word of mouth more important?

There are several job websites such as and where offices will post job openings. I would also recommend for newcomers to personally deliver their resumes to dental offices. It’s a good way to introduce yourself and make sure they have one of your resumes on file.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in this field?

If you don’t have prior connections to an office, I would recommend starting off by working for a temping agency. As a temp hygienist, you fill in at offices that need help for the day –if someone there is out sick or on vacation. Some hygienists have been offered jobs through offices they have temped at. Temping is also a good way to start building experience until you find a permanent location.



Payal Patel

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ’17

B.S. Information Science

UNC UCS Career Peer


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