Last Updated on April 13, 2021 by A. Scott, BSDH
Many people who plan to live abroad opt to teach English, or just do odd jobs to get by. But as dental hygienists, we have a skill that is in global demand and this can bring wonderful opportunities.
Dental hygiene could be your ticket to working abroad and all of the amazing experiences that expat life has to offer.
“You Are Never Too Old To Set Another Goal Or To Dream A New Dream.”C.S. Lewis
U.S. dental hygiene is viewed positively abroad
The global dental community considers training in the U.S. to be the gold standard. While practicing in America, it may be hard to imagine this. But just think of the reach that our entertainment industry has in the rest of the world.
Hollywood and the music industry have shaped an attractive image of the American lifestyle. This not only influences the cultural tastes of people overseas, it even changes the perception of dental hygiene abroad.
For instance, many of my patients remark about how white Americans’ teeth are. They wish they had such “good” teeth!
Foreign dental professionals travel to the U.S. all the time for further education and courses. They know that we – U.S. and Canadian dental professionals – have mastered our art.
They also recognize how prevention is such a key piece in the dental puzzle. Though they may still struggle with how to implement it in their own dental office, they do see the benefits.
In the eyes of the international dental community, a U.S.-trained dental hygienist is a wonder. You can make use of this strong image to get your foot in the door.
What preventive dentistry means in Germany
It is vital to remember that in Germany (and the rest of the world too), lots of dental practices still use assistants to do prophys, and even SRPs. They do not lose sleep over it either, partly because the dental hygiene profession is so poorly understood and is still ill-defined.
The few German-qualified dental hygienists are preceptorship-trained assistants. Their path to becoming a hygienist can only begin as a certified dental assistant, as per German dental board rules.
It takes a German dental assistant about 7 years to become a hygienist, as they work full-time and take courses along the way.
They have different levels of preceptorship qualifications, which dictate how far below the gingival margin they may work until they earn the title of DH (Dental Hygienist).
Many are also granted a bachelor’s degree through some programs in conjunction with their apprenticeship training. They are proud of their hard work and are driven to achieve their hygienist title.
However, the pay is not the same as we would earn at home and is much closer to a dental assistant’s salary. And though dentists abroad love the prestige of having an American-trained dental hygiene expert on board, the preceptorship mentality may also reflect in your salary.
More on overseas dental salaries to come.
The dental hygiene situation in Switzerland
Switzerland, though, is another story. Sadly for us American dental hygienists, it is no longer so easy to get a work visa.
Switzerland as a whole has not completely embraced the idea of prevention in its truest sense. But despite this, dental hygiene is a well-defined profession that carries respect and is widely supported.
This is mostly due to the American-trained hygienists who moved abroad to European countries back in the 1970s. They did such a good job in establishing dental hygiene as an official profession that it is still going strong 50 years later.
There are still dentists in Switzerland who try to get away with preceptorship, using the lack of dental hygienists as a justification. But the hygienist community is proud of and protective of their profession.
The Swiss hygienists demand respect by virtue of their training and their results. Naturally, the pay reflects this and it is at least as good as in the United States.
Still not sure if life overseas is for you? This will help you decide.
Practicing dental hygiene abroad – the next steps
If your travel bug compels you to jump into this adventure with both feet, please do so with eyes wide open, and be well aware of the differences.
You will find that working in Europe, while sometimes a challenge, can bring many rewards. There are so many patients who have never received proper dental care, even though they have gone to dentists all their lives.
Arrange your circumstances, fellow hygienists, and take full advantage of this amazing opportunity to practice dental hygiene abroad!
If you need further advice on how to get started practicing dental hygiene abroad, or wish to establish a dental hygiene department in your practice, please get in touch.
Featured photo courtesy of Michal Jarmoluk
Please note, these views are based on my own experiences and on those of my friends and colleagues. There are certainly other views and opinions, equally valid, though different from my own.
The advice in this blog is based strictly on personal experience. I am neither a lawyer nor an immigration expert. Please consult a lawyer, legal professional and/or an immigration official if in doubt. Do so before, during and after your negotiations with your potential employer. Additionally, be sure to do due diligence regarding employment laws, customs, and immigration policies in the country in which you plan to work. The advice given here is no guarantee of success, even if you follow the advice explicitly. There are always many variables at play, and each circumstance is unique.