Dental hygienists are dental care professionals who typically work as part of a team along with dentists, dental technicians, and dental assistants. Dental hygienists perform a wide range of dental care tasks, including screening patients, cleaning and polishing teeth, examining gums and more.
Dental Hygienist Schools
Most dental hygienists prepare for their careers by earning an associate's degree in dental hygiene from an accredited dental hygienist training program. There are approximately 300 dental hygiene training programs in the United States accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Though a handful of programs offer certificates in dental hygiene, the following degrees are the most common:
- Associate Degree: An associate's degree in dental hygiene is the most popular way for individuals to prepare for entry-level dental hygienist jobs. Associate's degree programs generally take about two years to complete and they are offered by approximately 270 accredited dental hygienist training programs.
- Bachelor's Degree: Like an associate's degree, a bachelorӳ degree program in dental hygiene prepares you for state licensing and entry-level dental hygiene work, but it can also qualify you for positions in dental hygiene education, research, and public health. A bachelor's degree generally takes about four years to complete.
- Master's Degree: A masterӳ degree in dental hygiene requires an additional one to two years of study after the bachelor's degree and qualifies graduates for jobs in education, research, administration, and public health.
Earning a dental hygiene degree requires a combination of coursework and clinical experience. Exact offerings vary by program, but most dental hygienist training programs require students to take courses in the following subjects:
- General science: chemistry, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, nutrition, pharmacology
- Dental science: dental, head, and neck anatomy; oral histology and pathology; radiography; periodontology; dental materials; pain control
- Dental hygiene science: health education, community dental health, patient management, medical and dental emergencies
Classes and Coursework for Dental Hygienists
A strong background in biology, chemistry and mathematics is a good place to start. Many dental hygiene programs require at least one year of college education before applying. At the very least, a high school diploma and college entrance test scores are required to begin a dental hygiene program.
Dental hygienist education includes both classroom and clinical instruction. Coursework often includes the following subjects:
- Clinical dental hygiene
Expect classes that will educate you on a variety of dental materials used, as well as instruction in social and behavioral sciences.
Dental Hygienist Education Requirements
Dental hygienists receive post secondary education from a dental hygiene program. A high school diploma or equivalent as well as passing an entrance test are typically required to obtain admission into a dental hygiene program. Dental hygiene programs offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Most dental hygiene programs award associate degrees, which are typically all that is necessary educationally to practice in a private dentist's office. Advanced degrees are typically obtained by those wishing to go into research.
The majority of associate degree programs can be found in community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools or universities. It is important to make sure your program is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Dental Hygienist Licensing
All states require that dental hygienists be licensed to practice. Most require that applicants be graduates of an accredited dental hygiene program and pass the written National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE). In addition, most states also require the passing of a clinical examination which is administered by state or regional testing agencies.
Resources for Dental Hygienists
- American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
- American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA)
- Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), of the American Dental Association
- Dental Hygienists, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Dental Hygienists, Virginia Career VIEW
- International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH)
- Dental Hygienists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm