Associate of Dental Hygiene: Degree Overview

An associate's degree program in dental hygiene provides students with education and training in preventive care for teeth and gums. Students learn how to administer various treatments to dental patients.

Essential Information

Associate's programs in dental hygiene are usually offered as an Associate of Science degree. Programs feature a combination of classroom education mixed with clinical lab experiences. Students who complete these programs may also pursue higher degrees to increase their earnings potential and job opportunities.

  • Program Levels in Dental Hygiene: Associate's degrees, Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent; passing grades in high school English, mathematics, science and social studies may be needed; college courses in anatomy, physiology, psychology and sociology may be required; minimum age and GPA requirements may apply
  • Program Length: Usually two years

Associate's in Dental Hygiene

In addition to learning about dental materials and obtaining required skills for the profession, an associate's in dental hygiene degree program features classroom education. Students are trained to educate patients regarding the care of their own teeth and gums. Common courses include these:

  • Dental and oral anatomy
  • Clinical and dental hygiene
  • Radiography
  • Dental pharmacology
  • Histology
  • Oral pathology

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of dental hygiene is growing at a rapid rate, due to increasing public awareness of the appearance of their teeth and the importance of dental health (www.bls.gov). Dental offices are also hiring more hygienists to handle x-rays and cleanings, so that dentists can focus their attention on patients who have more serious issues. A 33% increase in dental hygienists is expected between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. The BLS expects economical trends to affect demand for these services, so there might be problems finding employment or getting enough hours when demand is weak.

The BLS states that over a half of all dental hygienists worked part-time in 2012, so many work for more than one office in order to boost wages. As of May 2014, dental hygienists earned mean annual salaries of $71,970 per year. Those in the top ten percent in earnings made $97,390 or more per year, which equals $46.82 per hour. California paid a mean annual wage of $94,370 per year, which was the highest pay of all states in the United States, while also employing more hygienists than anywhere in the country in May 2014.

Licensing and Continuing Education Information

Students must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, which is offered by the American Dental Association, in order to be legally licensed for employment (www.ada.org). The exam covers dental hygiene knowledge and skills for those interested in obtaining careers in the field. Some states may also have additional licensing requirements.

Dental hygienists who want to advance their careers often pursue additional education. Advanced degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science degree in dental hygiene, can help them accomplish this. Hygienists who want to become researchers, teachers, dentists or even enter management careers, may find these programs valuable. Greater responsibilities, salaries and career opportunities may result when a hygienist completes an advanced education program.

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