Dental Hygienist Examination: National/State Certification Process

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Dental Hygienist Examination

Sometimes seems like school and tests will follow us for the rest of our lives.

So, it somehow turns into a life’s philosophy.

But it’s logical that in order to prove something is right, you need to put it to test.

The same goes for Dental Hygienist Examination as well.

Here also, a test is the final evaluation of your skills and knowledge.

Therefore, below you can read the testing procedures that are needed to go through as you prepare to qualify for this profession.

National, Regional and State Dental Hygiene Certification Exams

As it has been defined by the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA), Dental Hygienists work on the prevention of disease as well as the promotion and improvement of the health of the population.

They have licensed healthcare providers who are responsible for performing a number of preventive procedures in a dental office.

These procedures include: examining teeth and gums, discerning the presence of disease or oral abnormality, removing calculus, stains, and plaque from the teeth, and applying fluorides and sealants.

In some states, dental hygienists may also administer anesthetics, remove sutures, and perform periodontal dressing duties, among others.

Because Dental Hygienists have many job duties and responsibilities, they are regulated and licensed in the state in which they practice.

However, the state ensures that practicing DH has the necessary competencies to perform the profession.

As a way to ensure that, State dental boards require the completion of a dental assisting program at either the associate’s or bachelor’s degree level

But also the successful completion of a national examination and a state/regional examination is necessary.

The Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations

The standard assessment tool for state dental boards is the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) through the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE).

The latter is an independent agency of the American Dental Association (ADA). All U.S. jurisdictions and all 50 states recognize the NBDHE for licensure purposes.

The purpose of the NBDHE is to determine the qualifications of dental hygienists who are seeking licensure to practice.

It is designed to assess basic dental hygiene information, including biomedical, dental, and dental hygiene sciences.

It also assesses a candidate’s ability to apply their knowledge of dental hygiene in a problem-solving context.

Therefore, candidates who are able to pass the NBDHE are considered to have achieved the level of skill, judgment, and knowledge necessary to practice in a safe and responsible fashion.

NBDHE Examination Components

The NBDHE consists of 350 questions that are organized into two components:

Component A

  • Scientific Basis for Dental Hygiene Practice
    • Anatomy
    • Physiology
    • Biochemistry and nutrition
    • Microbiology and immunology
    • Pathology
    • pharmacology
  • Provision of Clinical Dental Hygiene Services
    • Assessing patient characteristics
    • Obtaining and interpreting radiographs
    • Planning and managing dental hygiene care
    • Performing periodontal procedures
    • Using preventive agents
    • Providing supportive treatment services
    • Professional responsibility
  • Community Health/Research Principles
    • Promoting health and preventing disease within groups
    • Participating in community programs
    • Analyzing scientific literature, applying research results, and understanding statistical concepts

Component B

  • 150 case-based items that refer to 12 to 15 dental hygiene patient cases
  • Each examination includes at least one geriatric, pediatric, special needs, medically compromised, or adult-periodontal case.
  • These case-based items address the following:
    • Obtaining/interpreting radiographs
    • Using preventive agents
    • Professional responsibility
    • Planning and managing dental hygiene care
    • Assessing patient characteristics
    • Providing supportive treatment services

The JCNDE recommends test takers use their textbooks and lecture notes as their primary sources for study.

Taking the NCDBE

The NCDBE is administered through Pearson VUE Testing Centers throughout the United States.

Candidates may familiarize themselves with the format of the NBDHE by taking a tutorial through Pearson VUE.

Individuals may also take a brief tutorial at the testing center before taking the actual dental hygienist examination.

The cost of taking the NBDHE is $400.

The NBDHE is scored using a scale score, which ranges from 49 to 99; a score of 75 represents the minimum, passing score.

Candidates who pass the exam are given only a pass/fail notification. However, candidates who do not pass the exam are given a numerical score.

Test takers can expect to receive their examination results about three weeks after the testing appointment.

Candidates who have not passed the NBDHE may apply for reexamination after 90 days.

While candidates who have not passed the examination after 3 attempts must wait 12 months after the third attempt before they can reapply to take the examination.

The JCNDE has a 5 years/5 attempts eligibility rule, which says that candidates must pass the dental hygienist examination within 5 years of their first attempt or within 5 examination attempts, whichever comes first.

The first step to taking the NBDHE involves applying through JCNDE.

Candidates who meet the eligibility requirements for testing will have their application eligibility forwarded to Pearson VUE and will receive an email from JCNDE with testing appointment scheduling instructions.

Once the application has been processed by JCNDE, candidates must take the NBDHE in a six-month period.

Eligibility Requirements to Sit for the NBDHE

To qualify to sit for the NBDHE, candidates must meet at least ONE of the following requirements:

  • Be a graduate of a dental hygiene program that was accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA); OR
  • Be a current dental hygiene student in a CODA-accredited program and receive certification from the director that they are prepared in all NBDHE disciplines.
  • Be a graduate of a non-accredited dental hygiene program:
  • Candidates may only qualify if they can furnish a letter of recommendation from the dean of the accredited dental school or the director of an accredited dental hygiene program, as well as the secretary of a board of dentistry of a U.S. licensing jurisdiction.
    The letter from the school dean or director must certify that the non-accredited program meets all requirements, including study, subjects, and hours.

State/Regional Examination for Licensure

Upon the successful completion of the NBDHE, candidates for state licensure usually need to take and pass a clinical (practical examination).

Clinical examinations are designed to provide a reliable assessment of a candidate’s clinical skills.

Although the examinations differ to a huge extent, it all depends on how skillful is the candidate to the patient in a clinical setting.

Some examinations also include a written or electronic patient-based component.

A few states have state-specific clinical examinations, while the majority of states use one of the five regional testing agencies such as:

  • Western Regional Examining Board (WREB)
  • Southern Regional Testing Agency (SRTA)
  • North East Regional Board (NERB) of Dental Examiners
  • Council of Interstate Testing Agencies (CITA)
  • Central Regional Dental Services (CRDTS)

Some states ask the candidates to complete a specific examination.

While other states recognize the completion of more than one dental hygienist examination for licensure as a dental hygienist.

Dental Hygiene Resources

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