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Start as a Dental Hygienist Overseas: 6 Important Steps

Learn what is required to start as a dental hygienist overseas.

The idea of moving abroad for work has many complex parts.

As such, it can be hard to know just where to start as a dental hygienist overseas. The easiest way is to be recruited by an international headhunting firm.

But what if you have to go about it on your own?

If this applies to you, here is my step-by-step advice on where to start as a dental hygienist:

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1. Find out if dental hygiene exists where you want to go

It may be hard to start as a dental hygienist if dental hygiene is not even a thing. Many countries do not have a culture of preventive dentistry or dental hygiene. 

So, find out if dental hygiene is a recognized profession in the country you’re looking at. 

Photo by Vinta Supply Co. | NYC from Pexels

Even if your desired country isn’t on the IFDH list of member nations, it may still be an option. It could be that there are large clinics that cater to expats with western-trained dental staff on board.

Two good examples of this are China and the United Arab Emirates. Both have multiple, reputable expat clinics and hospitals. They hire you, arrange your visa, and organize, at least, temporary housing.

Take this route only with a clear contract (more on this to come).

See the article Immigration 101: Should I move abroad or not?

2. Be up to date on the immigration policies

Next, confirm that people from your country are allowed to work in your chosen country.

Make sure that your home country is not on some kind of international blacklist. Check the visa laws with your desired country’s embassy or consulate while at home.

Without a visa or work permit, it will not be possible to start as a dental hygienist overseas.

3. Learn the language basics

After getting the green light on those two crucial steps, you can start to dream! 

Next on the agenda is to learn the language, or at least the basics.

Many online forums are asked, “Where can I work abroad as a hygienist and only need to speak English?” Common answers are the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia.

Otherwise, like it or not, you have to learn the local language as a normal member of society.

Practicing as a dental hygienist in switzerland

Find a fairly priced online language course with Cudoo

An online language course will allow the flexibility to study in your free time. Some work environments may allow you to get away with only speaking English but that’s not common. You still will have to chat with locals outside of the office on some level.

Plus it’s good to know if the can of green beans that you are about to buy has smoked grasshoppers or smoked horse in it!

An exception to this is if you work in a fully English-speaking environment. You may also find housing areas exclusive to expat workers. This is the case in China, United Arab Emirates or on U.S. military bases.

4. Start your job search

In order to start as a dental hygienist abroad, you first need to search for a hygienist position.

Knowing the language is crucial here. Do you know how to read and write the words “dental hygienist” in the language of your target country?

For example, Switzerland has four official languages and none of them use the English phrase “dental hygienist”! Instead, they use a transliteration, like “hygieniste dentaire” in French.

Other examples include “dentalhygienikerin” in German and “igienista dentale” in Italian. The Spanish translation is “higienista dental”.

Now you know how to search for your role in European countries. Hooray! But there is now a real issue in the quest to start as a dental hygienist.

What do they actually mean by the term “dental hygienist”? Do they expect a dental hygienist to be an assistant? Is a hygienist expected to be a dentist? I can assure you that in Switzerland, a “hygienist” is a hygienist.

What about Germany? In my experience working there, a dental hygienist is typically a preceptorship-trained assistant. They are taught to focus on non-surgically treating perio disease and not to prevent it.

5. Narrow your job search

You can find many job boards online that will get you started. 

Check out our page of recommended job boards.

Also, you could search the term “dental hygienist jobs” translated into the language of your target country. For example,

In Germany, you might search for “dentalhygienikerin Stelle” in German. Other examples include French (“hygiéniste dentaire poste”), Italian (“igienista dentale posti”) or Spanish (“higienista dental puesto”).

6. Prepare yourself for a perio-heavy patient base

You may have loads of SRPs (“PA Behandlungen” in Germany) and Perio Maintenances (“UPT” in Germany) on your schedule. There are a lot of smokers and perio is rampant.

Just like in North America, SRPs are very lucrative for the hygiene department.

So, prepare yourself for a perio-centered patient base.

need a dental hygienist

Anything easier than an SRP (Scaling and Root Planing) or PM (Periodontal Maintenance) is likely to be handed over to an assistant in Germany. An assistant does not likely have training in prevention.

If assistants are in charge of the prophylaxis department, you can expect loads of undiagnosed perio in that practice.

Sadly, you as the dental hygienist are likely to see these patients for perio treatment at some point. It is a sad reality that many offices create their own perio cases. Supervised neglect is real.

There are exceptions of course, even here in Germany. Some offices do have a clue and execute preventive dentistry nicely. These incorporate preventive dentistry nicely into their treatment plans.

The reality is, though, you may have a hard time finding them. But, when you do, your hygiene practice abroad in Germany will be so rewarding!

To find this in Germany, I would suggest looking in Bavaria, or places where U.S. military bases are or have been present.

Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany

Even if your place of work doesn’t practice the latest version of dental hygiene or dentistry, you can still find fulfilment.

Your intervention could keep a bad case from becoming hopeless.

Why I think you should start as a dental hygienist abroad

Practicing hygiene abroad is an amazing experience if you go in with your eyes wide open.

You must be fully aware of the cultural and work-related differences and execute your search properly. Also, your job search will be severely hindered without knowing at least some of the language.

You should also fully understand what is expected of you as the dental hygienist. Consider our coaching and consulting services.

In summary, do I recommend taking the leap into international dental hygiene? Most definitely!

Would I recommend Germany as one of those places to start as a dental hygienist abroad? Absolutely!

See the post Cultural Awareness for the Dental Hygienist.

Reasons to start as a dental hygienist in Germany

Neuschwanstein Germany
  1. The German economy is very strong right now (written pre-Covid-19). It is very favorable to accommodating skilled foreign labor, unlike its small and conservative southern neighbor, Switzerland. You can read more about this here and here.
  2. Germany is truly a beautiful country in its own right, but its central location allows easy travel to other beautiful European cities.
  3. It is relatively safe to live and work in Germany.
  4. Germany boasts a high standard of living. Without going into all the social benefits, the six weeks paid vacation that I enjoy, is more than enough reason for me to highly recommend it.
  5. Germany is full of fascinating history and interesting facts. Don’t miss out on the rich culture and unique heritage of Germany, because of a few ugly historical incidents.

Check out our coaching and consulting services for tailored assistance.

Featured image courtesy of Austris Augusts

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