Dental hygiene is usually offered as an Associate of Science degree. Programs feature a combination of classroom education mixed with clinical lab experiences. Students who complete these two-year programs may also pursue bachelor's and master's degrees to increase their earnings potential and job opportunities.
In order to apply, students need a high school diploma or the equivalent, possibly with a minimum final GPA, and they must have earned passing grades in high school English, mathematics, science and social studies. They may also need to have completed college courses in anatomy, physiology, psychology and sociology. Finally, some programs may have a minimum age requirement as well.
Associate's in Dental Hygiene
Students in these programs learn about dental technologies and are trained to educate patients regarding the care of their own teeth and gums. Common courses include:
- Dental and oral anatomy
- Clinical and dental hygiene
- Dental pharmacology
- Oral pathology
Career Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for dental hygienists is expected to grow 19% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations, primarily because of the increasing size of the elderly population, the growing popularity of cosmetic dental procedures and improving access to health insurance (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. However, as more qualified hygienists graduate from training programs, competition for jobs is likely to become more intense.
The BLS states that about a half of all dental hygienists worked part-time in 2014, so some worked for more than one office in order to boost wages. As of May 2015, dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $72,330. Those in the top ten percent of earnings made $98,440 or more per year, which equals at least $47.33 per hour. California employed the most hygienists and paid the highest mean annual wage with $93,970, as of May 2015.
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. Higher 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 managers may find these programs valuable. These careers may involve greater responsibilities and higher salaries than hygienist positions.
By earning an A.S. degree in dental hygiene, students gain the dental education and practical treatment skills they need to pursue licensure and start working in the field. They may also pursue further education related to dentistry to improve their work prospects.