Those considering a career as an oral hygienist must first earn an associate degree in dental hygiene, then obtain state licensure. Graduate degrees are also offered for hygienists interested in college-level instruction or research.
Oral hygienists, also called dental hygienists, work in dentist's offices, where they clean patients' teeth and provide other preventative dental care. Both a state license and a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school are required for the job. An associate's degree is most common degree held by dental hygienists, but bachelor's and master's degrees in the field are also offered. Associate's programs include courses in anatomy, radiography and periodontology. Students develop clinical skills through labs and practical experience. In addition to completing an approved training program, applicants for licensing must pass examinations of their skills and knowledge.
|Required Education||Associate's degree or higher in dental hygiene|
|Other Requirements||All states require licensing|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||19% (much faster than average)|
|Median Annual Salary (2015)*||$72,330|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Most oral hygienists hold an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Generally, an associate's degree is the minimum qualification requirement for state licensure in the field and is also the standard education for individuals aspiring to work in a dentist's office. Dental hygiene students take classes in chemistry, anatomy, microbiology, radiography, periodontology, pathology and clinical dental hygiene. Most programs combine classroom learning with laboratory and clinical work.
Bachelor's and master's degree programs are also available in the field of dental hygiene. These degree programs are designed for individuals who are interested in pursuing research or teaching positions. They are also ideal for those individuals who aspire to offer educational programs in dental hygiene in public schools or community clinics. Such programs often offer advanced courses in dental hygiene procedures and prevention, as well as focus on laboratory and clinical work.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require oral hygienists to be licensed. While each state's licensing requirements are unique, the majority require candidates to hold a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school. Most states also require aspiring oral hygienists to pass written and clinical examinations. Sometimes an examination on the legal aspects of the dental practice is also administered.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary of oral hygienists was $72,330 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The lowest ten percent made less than $50,140 and the highest-paid ten percent earned more than $98,440.
According to the BLS, employment of oral hygienists is projected to grow 19% between 2014 and 2024, a rate which is much faster that the average for all U.S. occupations. Job growth is spurred primarily by a growing population and continuing research that links physical health with oral health.
An aspiring oral hygienist must complete an associate program from an accredited dental school. The final step is to become licensed, which entails clinical and written exams. The job outlook for this career is bright, with faster-than-average growth expected for the 2014-2024 decade.