Associate of Dental Hygiene: Degree Overview

Explore the curriculum and requirements of an associate's degree program in dental hygiene. Learn about the career outlook, salary trends, licensing requirements and continuing education options to make an informed decision about your education.

Essential Information

An associate's degree in dental hygiene provides students with education and training in preventive care for teeth and gums. These programs, usually offered as an Associate of Science, can generally be finished in two years. Programs feature a combination of classroom education mixed with clinical lab experiences. Students may need to complete prerequisite courses in addition to having a high school diploma.

Educational Prerequisites

Students should have a high school education or equivalent, in addition to meeting minimum age and GPA requirements, before entering a program. Some programs request specific courses to be completed in high school with passing grades, such as English, mathematics, science or social studies. Additionally, some degree programs require students to complete general education courses in college, such as anatomy, physiology, psychology and sociology, prior to partaking in core courses.

Course Topics

In addition to learning about dental materials and obtaining required skills for the profession, an associate of dental hygiene degree program features classroom education. Students are also 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
  • Tooth structure
  • 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 38% increase in dental hygienists is expected between 2010 and 2020, 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 2010, so many work for more than one office in order to boost wages. As of May 2012, dental hygienists earned mean annual salaries of $70,700 per year. Those in the top ten percent in earnings made $96,280 or more per year, which equals $46.29 per hour. California paid a mean annual wage of $93,280 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 2012.

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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