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Dental Hygiene Career Education Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dental hygienist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

Dental hygienists perform routine cleanings and inspect for oral health. An associate's degree or certificate program is the minimum requirement for his job. These provide in-class training and hands-on experience. Licensure is usually required for dental hygienists.

Essential Information

Dental hygienists deep clean patients' teeth, inspect mouths for signs of gum disease and systemic illness, and educate patients about dental health and hygiene. These professionals work for dental offices, research facilities and government-sponsored programs. Most dental hygienists hold a certificate or associate's degree in their field. They must meet educational requirements to become licensed in their respective state.

Required Education Certificate or associate's degree in dental hygiene; bachelor's and master's degrees available
Licensing Licensing is mandatory in most states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 19% for dental hygienists
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $72,330 for dental hygienists

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Dental Hygienist Career Education Information

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dental hygienists assist dentists by performing teeth cleanings and other services such as making dental impressions or applying fluoride treatments (www.ada.org). Due to varying regulations, the specific services that dental hygienists can perform differ from state to state. They may consult with patients on caring for their teeth, administer tests or perform administrative work.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements for dental hygienists vary, depending on the career field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an associate's degree or certificate is typically needed to work in a private office, while research or public health careers may require a bachelor's or master's degree (www.bls.gov). Prospective dental hygienists may consider programs that are approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. The BLS states that graduating from an accredited program is required by many states.

Coursework

Programs of all levels require significant coursework in general and dental-related science, such as microbiology, oral health, oral pathology and anatomy. Students also take courses in dental procedures, including dental radiology and oral hygiene. Applicants may need to complete prerequisite coursework or be certified in Basic Life Support. Some programs require applicants to take dexterity or spatial recognition tests.

Clinical Experience

Dental hygiene programs also involve experience-based learning through clinical experiences. Some schools place students in dental offices or other oral healthcare facilities, while others have fully equipped on-campus clinics. During clinical experience, students practice dental procedures under the supervision of licensed dentists and faculty members, who provide performance evaluations.

Licensing Requirements

In addition to education standards, most states have examination requirements for licensure. The ADA's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations offers the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE), which is accepted in all states. The NBDHE tests individuals on their knowledge of scientific concepts and the ability to apply them. The BLS indicates that state agencies administer clinical examinations and many states test individuals on the legal aspects of the field.

Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS projects much faster than average employment growth for dental hygienists during the 2014-2024 decade, estimating it to be about 19%. Dental hygienists earned a median salary of $72,330 annually in May 2015, according to the BLS.

After fulfilling educational requirements it is necessary to obtain licensure in order to work as a dental hygienist in most states. Training programs include classroom and practical learning. The career outlook is promising with expectations of 19% increase in job growth.

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