The four-year bachelor's degree program in dental hygiene provides students with both a theoretical and clinical understanding of the oral health field. Students are expected to gain at least 1,000 hours in pre-clinical and clinical experience while working under the direct supervision of licensed dentists and faculty members before graduating.
In every state, dental hygienists must be licensed. Requirements vary, but usually call for graduation from an accredited training program and passage of written and practical examinations. All students must earn a high school diploma before enrolling in this program. Before declaring a dental hygiene major, undergraduate students often must complete courses in basic college-level mathematics, physical sciences, communication and English.
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Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene
A Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene program typically combines courses related to health science and anatomy with clinical experience. Students learn to prepare patients for examinations, perform basic examinations, provide preventative services, use x-ray equipment, apply sealant to teeth and administer fluoride treatments. They also gain a strong background in clinical, dental and biomedical sciences. Some courses include:
- Oral histology, embryology, and tooth morphology
- Dental materials and local anesthesia
- Oral radiology and pathology
- Head and neck anatomy
- Clinical dental hygiene and preventative dentistry
- Pharmacology for dental hygiene
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), 200,550 dental hygienists were employed in the United States in 2015. The job growth rate for dental hygienists is expected to increase by 19% from 2014 to 2024, which is much higher than the average job growth rate. In May 2015, the median annual salary for dental hygienists was $72,330.
They may work in private dental practices, community health organizations, nursing homes, or preventative oral health educational programs.
Continuing Education Options
Licensed dental hygienists who hold a baccalaureate degree may choose to further their education by earning a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene. Relatively rare, the terminal degree program is often designed for dental hygienists looking to achieve positions of leadership in community health settings. Dental hygienists interested in performing research in a particular aspect of the field may also wish to pursue this degree program.
In lieu of obtaining an associate's degree, or building upon one, a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene provides an excellent pathway into this aspect of the dental field. The four-year commitment gives hygienists the hands-on and theoretical knowledge required to competently work with patients.