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
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.
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.
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Dental Hygienist Frequently Asked Questions
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Northeast Mississippi Community College primarily serves five counties in Mississippi. The AAS in dental hygiene prepares learners to provide services in dental offices. Students must complete a pre-dental hygiene curriculum before they can enroll in the AAS. Completion of this curriculum does not ensure admission to the dental hygiene program. The two-year AAS requires 85 credits that students complete on campus in Booneville.
The two-semester pre-dental curriculum includes general education such as psychology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology. The AAS builds on this knowledge with concepts such as head and neck anatomy, patient care, and how to deal with medical dental emergencies. A periodontics course explores the various conditions that impact tooth health. Students complete three clinicals to demonstrate their mastery of clinical tasks such as cleanings.
In their last semester, participants explore ethics and laws that govern dentistry practice. Seniors also examine various dental disciplines. Admission requires prerequisite coursework, school transcripts, and ACT scores.
Texas State Technical College operates campuses throughout the state. Students interested in the AAS in dental hygiene complete the program on campus in Harlingen. The degree requires 68 credits that include relevant general education courses such as chemistry, psychology, and sociology. Students begin dental hygiene training in the second semester. They examine topics such as anatomy and physiology and preventive dental hygiene care.
Advanced coursework such as periodontology and dental radiology build on this knowledge. Participants learn about various dental materials. They also learn about the impact of nutrition on oral health. All students apply their knowledge during a series of supervised work-based experiences.
Student life at TSTC includes access to various clubs and leadership opportunities. TSTC offers very affordable tuition and comprehensive financial aid. Admission to the dental hygiene program requires Test of Essential Academic Skills placement exam scores.
Founded in 1970, Lewis and Clark Community College offers programs on multiple campuses in Illinois. Students enroll in the AAS in dental hygiene to prepare for clinical and other roles. Enrollees learn how to assess and treat oral diseases, keep electronic dental records, and plan community oral health programs.
The degree plan covers general education topics such as English, physiology, and microbiology. The major teaches students about dental hygiene concepts such as pharmacology, periodontology, and nutrition and oral health. Students learn how to treat clients with special needs, including those with sensory disabilities or musculoskeletal disorders.
During supervised clinicals, participants practice various techniques such as oral examinations. Students complete off-site rotations at locations such as the Veteran's Administration Medical Center. The final course prepares enrollees to make the transition to professional practice. Admission to the dental hygiene program requires high school transcripts, or a GED diploma, and a dental hygiene pre-entrance exam.
Meridian Community College offers 50 areas of study and a strong college transfer program. Students complete MCC's 89-credit AAS in dental hygiene on a full-time basis on campus in Meridian. The program meets Mississippi's education requirements for a dental hygienist license. Licensure requires AAS graduates to sit for state and national board dental exams.
The dental hygiene degree requires prerequisite coursework such as chemistry, microbiology, and anatomy and physiology. During the AAS's first semester, students explore concepts such as dental hygiene fundamentals and dental medical emergencies. Advanced coursework teaches participants how to perform various oral procedures such as cleanings. Two courses focus on delivering dental health in the community. Students also learn skills such as public speaking for more effective practice.
At MCC's success center, students receive access to tutoring and other services. Admission to the AAS requires ACT scores and a minimum 2.0 GPA on prerequisite coursework.
Southeastern Technical College serves residents of eight counties in southeastern Georgia. Students complete the AAS in dental hygiene on campus in Vidalia. The degree blends academic and clinical knowledge. Students must complete prerequisite courses that help prepare them for success in the dental hygiene program. The 21 prerequisite credits cover topics such as psychology and anatomy and physiology.
Once admitted to the 86-credit AAS, students complete limited general education such as chemistry and public speaking. They also begin to develop professional skills in areas such as head and neck anatomy, pharmacology and pain, and community dental health. A series of labs further develop students' knowledge about how to treat and prevent oral disease. Students in need of academic support receive free tutoring. Participants enjoy affordable tuition and comprehensive financial aid.
Admission to this dental hygiene program requires placement testing and high school or GED transcripts.
Wytheville Community College offers an AAS in dental hygiene on campus in Wytheville, Virgina. The 72-credit degree prepares students for licensure as a registered dental hygienist. Students earn the dental hygiene degree in two years on average. In the first semester, enrollees complete a course that helps them successfully transition to college life. They also complete foundational coursework such as oral anatomy and human anatomy and physiology.
Students advance to a professional core that explores topics such as general and oral pathology, dental hygiene, and dental materials. Enrollees participate in student-led community projects that focus on preventative oral health education. This may include producing bulletin boards and providing services in the community. Learners engage in supervised clinical practice at dental clinics and/or various community facilities.
Admission requires prerequisite courses, a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA, and Testing Essential Academic Skills exam scores.
Lake Land College offers a comprehensive catalog of programs. The college, located in Mattoon, Illinois, offers an AAS in dental hygiene. The degree blends lectures, labs, and clinical experiences at healthcare agencies. The curriculum prepares students to sit for the Central Regional Dental Testing Service and national registered dental hygienist exams. Students will need to pass prerequisite courses such as anatomy and physiology to enter the program.
The first semester explores topics such as dental anatomy and dental hygiene. Advanced coursework includes periodontology, pain management, and community dental health. Students also learn how to provide dental care to clients with special needs. Participants practice a variety of procedures during a series of supervised clinical experiences. A course focuses exclusively on ethics and professionalism.
The final course provides an overview of the National Dental Hygiene Board examination. Admission to the dental hygiene program requires high school and college transcripts.
Situated in the South Bronx, CUNY Hostos Community College offers 28 associate programs. The AAS in dental hygiene prepares students to sit for the state and national exams necessary for licensure as registered dental hygienists. Students choose either the two- or three-year degree plan. The first semester focuses on foundational coursework such as psychology and anatomy and physiology.
Advanced coursework explores topics such as oral microbiology, dental specialities, and general and oral pathology. A series of courses develops students' clinical dental hygiene practice. Participants also learn about ethics, jurisprudence, and how to manage a practice. Enrollees participate in three clinics to receive hands-on experience. Under supervision, they provide preventive oral healthcare to members of the public at an on-site facility.
Students in the dental hygiene program receive academic assistance at the tutoring and writing centers. They also benefit from free counseling services. Admission requires school transcripts and prerequisite courses such as biology and chemistry.
Pearl River Community College offers programs at several locations in Mississippi. Students complete the AAS in dental hygiene at the Forrest County Center in Hattiesburg. The degree prepares hygienists who can provide services such as dental cleanings, dental X-rays, and sealants to help protect teeth. Students must complete an academic core of prerequisites before gaining admission to the program. The prerequisites cover subjects such as psychology and public speaking.
The first semester of the dental hygiene degree requires coursework such as dental radiology and dental hygiene fundamentals. Students build on this knowledge with advanced coursework such as periodontics and general and oral pathology. Students complete several courses that teach them how to perform various dental hygiene clinical procedures. Clinical experiences allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills under supervision.
A course explores dental ethics and law. In the last semester, enrollees review the fundamentals of licensure. Admission requires a minimum 'C' grade on prerequisite courses.
State Fair Community College serves 14 counties in west central Missouri. The AAS in dental hygiene requires 92 credits that students complete at the Sedalia campus. The program prepares students for state licensure. Students must pass the National Dental Hygiene Board and Missouri jurisprudence exams to earn a license. SFCC notes the program's high licensure exam pass rate.
The dental hygiene degree explores topics such as dental radiography, dental clinic emergencies, and oral anatomy and histology. A series of courses focus on dental hygiene theory. Students demonstrate their expertise during several clinics. Learners build clinical problem-solving and critical thinking skills throughout the program. Students receive hands-on experience at SFCC's six-unit dental hygiene clinic.
Participants prepare for workplace success with a course focused on allied health career development. The Student American Dental Hygiene Association provides extracurricular learning through conferences and community health activities. Admission requires prerequisite coursework such as microbiology and human anatomy.
Located in Tennessee, Roane State Community College offers an AAS in dental hygiene. Students complete the degree at the Oak Ridge branch campus. Degree-seekers enroll on a full-time basis and earn the degree in five semesters. The 78-credit curriculum includes general education coursework such as psychology and human anatomy and physiology. Enrollees explore professional practice with coursework such as dental science, dental materials, and periodontology.
A series of courses teach students how to deliver comprehensive dental hygiene care. This includes treating clients in different age groups with varying levels of periodontal disease.
Students provide services to the public during supervised on-campus clinicals. The program develops participants' critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
The dental hygiene degree prepares students to sit for national and clinical board exams. With Tennessee Reconnect or Tennessee Promise, eligible students can earn the dental hygiene degree tuition-free. Admission to the AAS requires prerequisite coursework and ACT scores or a minimum 2.5 GPA.
Gulf Coast State College provides a rigorous education on a campus located on the Gulf Coast shoreline. The AS in dental hygiene prepares students to sit for the national board and state exams for licensure as a dental hygienist. The 88-credit degree includes general education subjects such as sociology and microbiology.
The major explores topics such as dental anatomy, dental radiology, and head and neck anatomy. Several courses focus on dental hygiene procedures. Students pursuing this dental hygiene degree also learn about pharmacology for the dental hygienist. GCSC operates a state-of-the-art dental clinic where participants receive hands-on experience.
GCSC students enjoy an active social life that includes sports and performance arts events on campus. The school offers some of the state's lowest tuition rates. GCSC provides a supportive environment for activity duty personnel and dependents. Admission requires a minimum 2.0 GPA and placement test scores.
Established in 1926, Mississippi Delta Community College offers an AAS in dental hygiene on campus in Moorehead. The degree provides general education and comprehensive clinical experiences. The program prepares students to sit for licensure exams. MDCC lauds a 100% student pass rate for both the state board and national board dental hygiene exams.
The 84-credit curriculum covers foundational topics such as anatomy and physiology and microbiology. Students complete advanced professional coursework such as dental radiology, dental medical emergencies, and dental materials. Two courses focus on providing dental health in the community. All students complete a course on ethics and the law. Students can use limited elective credits to learn about computer applications and/or medical terms in allied health. Participants receive hands-on experience and demonstrate mastery in a state-of-the-art clinical facility.
The dental hygiene program offers a low student-to-faculty ratio for more personalized learning. MDCC student services include tutoring and career placement. Admission requires ACT scores, school transcripts, and TEAS entrance test scores.
Central Georgia Technical College serves students in an 11-county area with several campuses and centers. Students can complete the associate in dental hygiene on either the Macon or Warner Robins campus. The degree provides the academic and technical training necessary for licensure as a registered dental hygienist. The 83-credit curriculum includes general education such as psychology, sociology, and chemistry.
Occupational core courses provide training in anatomy and physiology. Students build on this knowledge with coursework such as head and neck anatomy, dental materials, and tooth anatomy and root morphology. Participants develop practical experience when they complete a series of clinical dental hygiene labs.
Students pay affordable tuition to earn their dental hygiene degree. They receive free academic help such as in-person and online tutoring at the academic success center. At the writing center they receive help with their assignments. Admission requires school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores.
At Monroe Community College, located in Rochester, New York, students choose from 100 academic programs. The AAS in dental hygiene provides the training necessary to sit for licensure exams. Students must complete prerequisite courses before enrolling in this four-semester program. The 68-credit degree blends liberal arts, dental science, and clinical experience.
Limited general education coursework includes psychology and sociology. Enrollees complete professional coursework in subjects such as dental health education, dental radiography, dental hygiene, and oral anatomy and physiology. All students learn the basic skills necessary to manage a dental office. Students practice their technical skills in the school's modern dental hygiene clinic. Enrollees develop real-world expertise as they provide services to members of the community.
Students pursuing this dental hygiene degree receive the support they need such as tutoring and college-survival workshops. MCC offers free career and counseling services. Admission to the AAS requires school transcripts and a minimum 2.0 GPA.