My dental hygiene education could have been much cheaper

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Why is dental hygiene school so expensive?
Dental hygiene school is expensive because it is a one size fits all path that is dictated from the top down.  If people are not free to come up innovative ways to achieve the same end (a comprehensive dental hygiene education), then we will continue to have what we have; a stagnant, bloated and expensive education system.  We can do better.  In this blog post, I make the case for the education I would have preferred for myself, which under current law, is illegal.

I attended dental hygiene school from 2005 to 2007 and my total annual costs were roughly $6,000 per year.  That may seem relatively cheap, but that figure does not capture the real cost.  Because I attended a state school, some, if not most, of the costs were subsidized by the state.  The real annual costs of a typical hygiene education is probably somewhere around $20k plus.  That’s pretty expensive, but even that doesn’t capture all the costs.

There are opportunity costs that go beyond the direct costs mentioned above.
One, the vast majority of programs require a full-time commitment, which means you cannot earn a full-time income while attending hygiene school.  If you are currently earning $30,000 a year and you stop working during hygiene school then that decision will cost you an additional $60,000 to $120,000.  Two, a lot of what you do in school, or even just getting to school, is unproductive time, A LOT.  For example, in my case, the lectures in school were essentially a waste of time.  I never took notes.  I basically brought home the textbooks and handouts (most handouts were worthless) and absorbed the material myself.  And it’s not just the unproductive school time that’s the problem.  It’s also the inability to use that wasted time on productive tasks that could have been completed.  For example, let’s say Susan the hygiene student has to be at school to attend lectures from 8am-Noon every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Her mom is her primary babysitter, but her mom works every weekday from 8am-5pm.  Susan now has to pay a babysitter to watch her kids while she’s at school.  But if the lectures were available in audio and/or video format then Susan could watch or listen to them at her convenience.  In her case it may be during the time she is with her kids.  As you can see from this one example, the costs created from the current system is not just a matter of quantity, but also a matter of quality (e.g. time with family).

What would my ideal dental hygiene education look like?  It would include the following.
1. A textbook, or a very comprehensive handout, for each course.
2. Recorded lectures (video and audio) for each course.  I can listen to these while walking the dog, working out at the gym, cleaning the house, etc.
3. An online forum where most common questions have already been asked and answered.  And if they haven’t been answered, you can ask the question and get it answered.
4. One exam for each course to confirm that I understand the material.
5. Learn and practice clinical skills, under the supervision of one or more experienced hygienists, on typodonts and live patients at a local dental office.
6. When ready, take the required board exams for licensure

The benefits of my proposed education model
One, it would be significantly cheaper, especially the non-clinical part.  I’ll give you a real world example.  I just joined which offers courses in history, economics, philosophy, etc. from a libertarian point of view. These courses are taught by real professors from real universities.  For one annual fee I get access to all the courses.  And that fee is only $119!  So yes, with today’s technology, a high quality education can be acquired at a VERY low price.  Two, my model would create opportunities for dental offices, that already have the clinic capacity, to earn extra revenue by letting hygienists teach students on days the office is closed or days they may have an open operatory.  As Michael Scott from The Office would say, “It’s a win, win, win for everyone”.  Why build multi million dollar school clinics when you already have unused clinical capacity and many experienced hygienists with a desire and passion to teach.  Three, it would be a much more flexible path for those wanting to be hygienists.  Four, it would decentralize hygiene education (I especially love this part).  For current hygienists who want to teach, you would be completely free to teach whenever, wherever and however you want without any gatekeepers.  As long as you can attract students and those students can pass whatever assessment the state requires for licensure, your “job” teaching will continue to exist.

The current education paradigm that we have now is flawed and stagnant.  You essentially have a one size fits all, expensive, and bloated system that is designed from the top down.  There is no freedom for others outside the system to innovate and create new and better models that, yes, may look very different.  I know that scares some people.  So I say this.  Let the state determine the expected outcome of a dental hygiene education, but don’t let it determine the path to get there.

Mark Frias, RDH

2 thoughts on “My dental hygiene education could have been much cheaper

  1. Mark,

    I’m a new grad, but not new to the dental field. Most of everything you stated was correct, however, I believe that there is one flaw with your “ideal” DH education: liability. There are so many scenarios I can think of in my head that would not play out well if this happened in real life.
    While I DO agree that classroom time was a waste, clinical time is not. Not just that, but also, many of these DH learning clinics provide their local community services at a very discounted rate. At the school I attended, everything from sealants, X-rays, and exam to non surgical periodontal treatment was all $10. Mind you, the sacrifice was the patient’s time, but still…patients attended their appointments fully knowing and understanding that it was a learning facility. We were still required to see around 4 patients a day and were watched like hawks, but it was a mutual understanding between the community and the school.
    I think your alternatives are completely reasonable; but, I still think holding clinic at a college/university clinic for hand on training is the most ideal setting for training is the best concept.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Had to check out your blog after I came across and watched your g+ hangout with Trish, Daniel, and Allison
    back in 2015. I enjoyed your discussions especially the story of how you all got into the profession. Lovely website well done.

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