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Dental Hygienist Degree

Dental hygienists take care of patient’s teeth. They have the responsibility to clean teeth, check if patients have any signs of oral diseases, and provide dental care for patients. Some major duties of dental hygienists are as follows.

  • Remove stains, plaque, and tartar from teeth
  • Apply fluorides and sealants to prevent tooth decay
  • Take dental x-rays and develop them
  • Keep a record of treatment plans
  • Educate people in oral hygiene techniques

What are the degrees offered in the field of dental hygiene?

The following is an overview of degrees offered in the field of dental hygiene. You must select a degree that meets your educational requirements and career goals.

Associate degree in dental hygiene

The associate degree in dental hygiene normally takes two years to complete and consists of both classroom based instruction and clinical experience.  Students acquire clinical experience under the supervision of dental health care professionals. They also learn various dental hygiene skills by observing dentists who work in specialty areas such as preventive dental care. Students learn some key activities during the degree program such as conducting oral x-rays, sealing cavities, applying fluorides, and teaching patients about dental care. Although, not all associate degrees in dental hygiene offer the same coursework, some key courses offered in the program are as follows.

  • Dental materials
  • Nutrition in dentistry
  • Legal responsibility in dentistry
  • Community dental health

Advanced degrees

Although, it is not necessary for dental hygienists to have an undergraduate degree in dental hygiene, some individuals pursue advanced degrees for better employment opportunities. Advanced degrees in dental hygiene are for those students who are aiming for a career in teaching or research. The degrees may also be useful for those individuals who wish to work in public health programs. Bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene is either offered as an entry level clinical program or as a degree completion program. Master’s degrees in dental hygiene generally focus on aspects such as education, research, and management.

Certificate in Dental Hygiene

Certificate programs in dental hygiene take around two to three years to complete. The curriculum of the program consists of classroom based instruction with clinical laboratory work. By acquiring clinical laboratory experience, students gain practical know-how even before they enter the workforce. Students acquire various skills in the program such as treating tooth decay and sensitive gums, guiding patients on appropriate dental care, and keeping a record of patient histories. The certificate programs mainly focus on dental sciences and some key dental techniques. Although, coursework may differ, following are some of the major courses offered in the certificate programs.

  • Oral and general pathology
  • Dental hygiene practice and theory
  • Periodontology
  • Local anesthesia
  • Dental pharmacology


If you are looking for a dental hygiene school, it is important that you look for an accredited degree program. Accredited degrees and programs meet the quality standards of education and employers also look for graduates from an accredited program. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association (ADA) accredits dental hygiene degree programs. You will find around 330 dental hygiene programs in the United States that are accredited by CODA.

What are the examination and licensure requirements?

Dental hygienists need to be licensed by their state to provide education and dental hygiene care. Almost all states require that license applicants should hold an educational qualification from an  accredited institute.  Besides, all states require license applicants to have at least the minimum required passing grade on a comprehensive written examination, known as the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. Candidates also need to pass the state authorized licensure examination. The regional and state examinations aim to test candidates on their dental hygiene knowledge and clinical dental hygiene skills. Once dental hygienists have been licensed, they may use “R.D.H.” after their name, which stands for Registered Dental Hygienist.

What are the career prospects for dental hygienists?

The career outlook for dental hygienist seems to be quite positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for dental hygienists are expected to grow at a rate of 33 percent between the years 2012 and 2002, which is much faster than the average of all occupations. The research that links oral health with general health will continue to increase the demand for services provided by dental hygienists. Besides, the median annual salary for dental hygienists was $70,210 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent of dental hygienists earned less than $46,540, while the top 10 percent earned a salary of more than $96,280.


States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 16600.111.2618.1337720
Florida 11300.141.6817.9737370
Illinois 9600.161.9217.937240
Texas 7600.070.7816.6234570
New York 6500.070.8520.1241840


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What will a dental hygienist degree cover?

A:In a dental hygiene degree program, you will be required to cover a range of courses such as the following: clinical dental hygiene, microbiology, head and neck anatomy, radiography, oral anatomy, dental practice emergencies, oral histology, internal medicine, etc. While a number of the courses are theoretical in nature, the program will also include practical training courses that will help you build career skills and acquire hands on experience.

Q:What degree do you need to be a dental hygienist?

A:Typically, dental hygienists hold at least an associates degree in this field. You can also opt for a bachelor level degree, though it is not mandatory. An associate degree in dental hygiene will equip you with knowledge of the field. You will cover a range of subjects such as dental anatomy, radiography, periodontology, gum disease, etc.

Q:Can you name a few courses which are covered in a dental hygienist bachelor degree?

A:In a bachelor degree in dental hygiene, you will cover a range of theoretical and practical courses. Some of the courses you may come across are: anatomy and physiology, radiology, oral anatomy, clinical practice, dental hygiene practice management, dental materials, periodontology, and more. The curriculum may vary from place to place.

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