Best Associate in Dental Hygiene Programs 2021

Best Associate in Dental Hygiene Program badge

Dental hygienists provide oral care to patients of all ages. They provide preventative care and dental assistance including conducting cleanings, applying sealants to patients’ teeth, and educating clients about effective oral hygiene techniques. Hygienists also use X-rays and other tools to examine clients for signs of oral disease or to perform dental surgery.

Many community colleges and technical schools offer dental hygiene degrees, as do some four-year institutions. Students enter dental hygiene programs immediately following high school or to change careers. Dental hygienists need a license to practice in all 50 states. They work in dentists’ offices and at other facilities such as community health centers. 

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a very good job outlook for dental hygienists. They can expect 6% job growth between 2019-2029 and a median annual pay of $76,220. Both exceed the statistics for all occupations. The following guide provides more information for those interested in pursuing a degree in dental hygiene.

Top 10 Associate Programs in Dental Hygiene


  • How many years does it take to be a dental hygienist?

    Programs typically take 2.5-3 years to complete. However, many schools offer two-year options.

  • What exactly does a dental hygienist do?

    Dental hygienists provide oral care such as tartar and plaque removal, sealant application for tooth protection, and oral health assessments for patient recommendations.

  • How many hours a week do dental hygienists work?

    They work on a full- or part-time basis, depending on the practice. Many work on a part-time basis, giving them flexibility to work for multiple practices or juggle other obligations.

  • Can you get a dental hygiene degree online?

    No. Students must attend classes, complete clinicals, and meet other requirements in person. However, some programs allow students to complete general education requirements online.

Best Associate in Dental Hygiene Programs 2021

What Are the Goals of a Dental Hygiene Degree?

An associate degree in dental hygiene provides students with the theoretical knowledge and technical expertise required for employment in various delivery settings. Dental hygienist schools offer associate of science (AS) or associate of applied science (AAS) in dental hygiene programs.

The curriculum typically requires a limited number of general education credits in subjects such as psychology, sociology, and anatomy. Occupational coursework examines topics such as clinical procedures, periodontology, dental materials, and preventative practice. All students complete a series of hands-on labs to gain experience. Some schools run dental clinics that allow students to provide services to community members.

Students should ensure that the school they plan to attend holds accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation. All states require that dental hygienists hold a license to practice, and the requirements vary by state. Accredited dental hygiene programs prepare students to sit for the National Board of Dental Hygiene Examination and meet state practical examinations.

Why Get a Dental Hygiene Degree?

People exploring dental hygiene degree benefits want to ensure that their investment pays off. The healthcare field remains one of the most robust sectors for job growth and pay. This includes the dental and dental hygiene fields. The following lists five benefits of a dental hygiene degree.

Job Stability
Associate degree-holders in dental hygiene can look forward to 6% job growth, making the career a good investment because of a strong job market.
Competitive Salary
Dental hygienists earn a median pay of $76,220 annually, making this a well-paying job with wages almost double the $39,810 average for all workers.
Fast-Track Programming
Many schools offer accelerated programs for career changers and those seeking to enter the field right out of high school. Many can earn an AS or AAS in just two years.
Schedule Flexibility
Dentists often hire hygienists to work part-time a few times a week, allowing them to work for multiple practices. It also gives them the freedom to pursue higher education or manage other responsibilities.
Affordable Education
Students attending two-year institutions pay a fraction of the tuition their peers do at four-year colleges. This makes a two-year dental hygiene degree a very affordable option.

What Are the Requirements for a Dental Hygiene Degree?

People interested in a dental hygiene program need a high school diploma or GED certificate. Schools often require students to complete prerequisite courses such as math, biology, and anatomy for admission. Students need a minimum 2.5 GPA on average. Learners submit school transcripts with their application.

Once admitted, students complete 70-90 credits, depending on the program. The curriculum’s extensive training gives participants the skills to provide clinical and therapeutic services, and to meet state licensure requirements.

Enrollees complete most of their courses in-person. They participate in a series of clinicals that accompany many courses. Some colleges offer dental hygiene clinics where dental hygiene students work under licensed dental professionals’ supervision. This gives students experience providing services, including radiographs (X-rays), periodontal screening, and oral evaluation. Students must successfully demonstrate theoretical and clinical competency to graduate.

Online Guide to Accredited Colleges and Universities

Professional Organizations for Dental Hygiene Students

Professional organizations keep students in dental hygiene programs abreast of industry developments. They give members access to publications, networking, and mentorship opportunities. See three dental hygienist professional organizations below.

  • American Dental Hygienists Association ADHA represents the dental hygienists' interests on the national and state levels. The organization offers a student membership option for enrollees in an accredited dental hygiene program. Member benefits include access to educational programs, a board exam review, networking opportunities, and professional discounts.

  • American Dental Education Association ADEA's membership includes dentists and other oral health professionals such as dental hygienists. The organization offers a student membership category. Member benefits include Journal of Dental Education access, professional development resources, and the dental community network ADEA connect.

  • American Dental Association The ADA represents dentists and dental students. Students pursuing a dental hygiene degree and dental hygienists receive access to some of the organization's resources. The ADA Career Center allows dental hygienists to search for employers in their community.

Scholarships for Dental Hygiene Students

Scholarships provide students with funding for tuition and other expenses. Sponsoring organizations award funding based on student need or academic achievement. They may also establish scholarships for specific populations such as women or minorities. The following lists three scholarships for dental hygiene students.

National Dental Association Foundation – Dental Hygiene Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The NDAF offers scholarships for dental care professionals including dental hygienists. The organization awards a dental hygiene scholarship based on financial need. Students must remain enrolled in good standing at an accredited program to qualify. They must provide evidence of community service and submit a letter of support from an NDA member.
Amount: $800

Dr. Kyle Hornby Annual Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students interested in pursuing a career in dentistry, including aspiring dental hygienists, qualify for this scholarship. Students need a minimum 3.7 GPA and must submit a 1,000-word essay outlining their career aspirations.
Amount: $500

ANSWER Scholarship

Who Can Apply: ANSWER offers this scholarship to nontraditional female students in parts of the Carolinas. Applicants over 25 with at least one school-aged child may qualify. Candidates submit FAFSA results, recommendation letters, and transcripts. Recipients must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA and meet mentoring requirements.
Amount: Varies

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