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Dental Hygienist: Dental Hygiene Career Education Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dental hygienist. Get a quick view of the requirements - including job duties, degree programs and licensure - to discover if this is the right career for you.

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Dental hygienists can complete either a certificate or associate's degree program to meet the required educational qualifications for the job. They must also be of legal age and have finished high school or a GED. Some dental hygienists continue their education to advance their careers. Licensure is mandatory.

Essential Information

A dental hygienist provides dental care for patients by teaching them proper dental hygiene and by performing tasks such as teeth cleaning, performing X-rays, and administering local anesthesia. Dental hygienists must have an associate's degree and a professional license to practice.

Required Education Associate's degree
Licensing Requirements National Board Dental Hygiene Examination
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 19% (much faster than average)
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $72,720

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Education Overview

Prerequisites

Students who wish to become dental hygienists need to meet a few minimum requirements before entering a training program. All students must have a high school education or equivalent, as well as be 18 years of age or older. Students entering the field must complete either a two-year Associate of Science degree or certificate program in dental hygiene to enter the field. All graduates must also be licensed to work as a dental hygienist.

Certificate in Dental Hygiene

Students who want to work as a dental hygienist and do not have an interest in continuing their education in a bachelor's degree program may pursue a dental hygiene certificate. The curriculum in a certificate program only includes core dental hygiene courses, and students are not required to complete general education requirements.

Students learn how to screen and record a patient's dental history, educate a patient on proper dental care, provide advice on gum care and disease, and aid in treatment of enamel wear and tooth decay. Common courses in a certificate program include:

  • Dental hygiene practices
  • Periodontics
  • Pharmacology for hygienists
  • Local anesthetics
  • Pathology

Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene

Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene degree programs can be completed in two years. Those who have an interest in continuing their education may want to enroll in an associate degree program; however, they must complete courses in English, mathematics, science and humanities.

Similar to certificate programs, students learn in both clinical laboratories and classroom settings. During the clinical portion, students learn how to conduct X-rays, educate patients on dental care, clean teeth with fluoride and apply sealants to prevent tooth decay. Common courses include:

  • Dental and oral anatomy
  • Histology
  • Advanced clinical and dental hygiene
  • Radiography

Licensing Information

After completing a dental hygiene education program, students must take and pass a clinical and written exam in order to become licensed and eligible for work in the career field. The American Dental Association offers the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination which students must complete to gain licensing (www.ada.org). Additional licensing requirements vary by jurisdiction.

Advanced Education Options

Students who seek to advance their careers beyond being a dental hygienist may opt to pursue advanced education. Both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Dental Hygiene degree programs can help hygienists advance their careers. These programs can be useful for students who hope to become dental researchers, teachers or office managers. The length of program and education requirements are determined by the school and previous education a student has completed.

Salary Info and Career Outlook

In May 2015, the average annual salary for dental hygienists was $72,720, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The field of dental hygiene is growing rapidly; the BLS anticipates a 19% growth in jobs from 2014-2024. Increased emphasis on the importance of oral health and advancements in dental technology are both expected to contribute to this significant rise in employment.

An Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene or certificate in dental hygiene are the two educational options available to aspiring dental hygienists. Additionally, a bachelor's or master's degree can be obtained by those wishing to move up in their career. Dental hygienists must also be licensed.

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