Dental hygienists primarily perform teeth cleanings, take x-rays, and manage patient treatment records. Associate degrees in dental hygiene are available partially online. For instance, students may take basic and major courses via distance learning; but, students must gain some hands-on clinical experience in on-campus labs. It is in the labs where future hygienists practice removing deposits from teeth and gums, learn how to take and interpret x-rays, and develop the skills for administering anesthesia.
Information and Requirements
|Online Availability||Blended format|
|Degree Levels Available||Associate degree|
|Program Length:||3 years for associate's degrees|
|In-Person Requirements||On-campus labs|
|Licensure/Certification||State licensure required|
|Median Annual Salary (2015)||$72,330|
An Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree can be completed in three years. Every state requires that dental hygienists be licensed. Requirements vary, but usually call for completing an accredited education program and passing written and practical competency examinations.
When taking a blended program that includes online work, students need to understand the requirements. Online coursework calls for reliable Internet access. Instructors and students connect through e-mail. Class interaction is facilitated through online bulletin boards. Updated versions of operating systems and web browsers are recommended. Meanwhile, the on-site lab work may require textbooks, uniforms, and supplies.
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Program requirements include general education classes and a variety of science courses such as: anatomy and physiology; microbiology; nutrition; biology; and chemistry. Students also take career-specific courses that teach them how to identify dental problems, select treatment, and recommend preventative care for patients.
One common course taken is a program in preventative dentistry. Students are trained to assess patient dental health, including the use of health histories and measuring equipment for dental instrumentation. This course instructs students in types of mouth infections, disease control, and therapies.
Another common course is dental hygiene. Students become familiar with oral health education, which they will use to instruct patients. During this course, students learn to recognize periodontal (in structures supporting the teeth) and gingival (gums) problems and determine appropriate treatment.
Tooth morphology is another common course. Tooth morphology is the study of tooth forms and structures. Students learn dental terminology and how interpret dental charts. Future dental hygienists are trained to identify tooth irregularities and occlusions (the ways teeth meet together).
While many employers expect an associate's degree in dental hygiene, more advanced education can give job seekers a competitive advantage - especially in areas of administration and community health. Graduates of an online associate's program in dental hygiene can progress to a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. Bachelor's degree completion programs are available completely online.
Licensure requirements may vary state by state, but all states require dental hygienists to be licensed. Graduates must pass an exam by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation to gain national licensure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists had a median annual wage of $72,330 in May 2015.
A student may prepare for a career as a dental hygienist by taking an online program, but all programs will require work in a clinical setting in order to earn a degree.