Dental Degrees by Degree Program Level

Jan 02, 2019

The dental field attracts many aspiring students hoping to land positions as dental assistants, dental hygienists or dentists. Students can choose a variety of degree programs to increase their job prospects in this growing industry.

Essential Information

Dentistry programs are available from colleges and universities at nearly every degree level. Aspiring dental assistants and dental hygienists can enroll in 2-year associate's degree programs in their respective specialties. Dental hygienists who are looking for a more well-rounded education or career advancement can also complete a bachelor's degree program in dental hygiene. Aspiring dentists must complete a Doctor of Dental Medicine or Doctor of Dental Surgery accredited by the American Dental Association in order to earn licensure and practice in the field.

Entrance into an associate's or bachelor's degree program requires a high school diploma. Some associate's or bachelor's programs may require prerequisite coursework too. Admittance into a doctoral program requires a bachelor's degree, prerequisite coursework, and satisfactory DAT scores. Bachelor's and doctoral degrees take four years to complete.

Associate's Degree in Dental Assisting

Associate's degree programs in dental assisting teach the skills necessary to work in a dentist's office. Students learn to operate dental equipment and use medical billing software. Applicants to dental assisting associate's degree programs need strong mathematics and science skills, as well as being good communicators.

The curricula for dental assisting associate's degree programs focus on both the administrative and technological aspects of the field. Some common topics taught in associate's degree programs in dental assisting are:

  • Administrative skills
  • Clinical dentistry
  • Radiology for dentistry
  • Dental sealants
  • Coronal polish

Associate's Degree in Dental Hygiene

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most degrees awarded in the field of dental hygiene are at the associate's level. Associate's degrees in dental hygiene take two years to complete and prepare graduates for entry-level jobs cleaning teeth in dentists' offices. Schools generally look for applicants with good grades in science courses, especially biology and chemistry.

The coursework in dental hygiene associate's degree programs teaches the skills necessary for performing oral cleaning techniques in dentists' offices. Students usually take the classes listed below while earning their degree:

  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical dental hygiene
  • Oral radiology
  • Health science nutrition
  • Dental hygiene methodology

Bachelor's Degree in Dental Hygiene

Bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene prepare graduates for entry-level research and teaching jobs in the field, as well as practical jobs in dentists' offices. These 4-year programs often include laboratory work in addition to standard classroom instruction. Applicants to dental hygiene bachelor's degree programs need to have taken courses in mathematics, science and communication.

Bachelor of Science degree programs in dental hygiene teach students the methods and technology used to maintain optimal oral cleanliness. The curricula usually include the courses listed below:

  • Microbiology
  • Dental ethics
  • Oral pathology
  • Dental hygiene technology
  • Dental hygiene research methodology

Doctoral Degrees in Dentistry

Practicing dentists must hold one of two equivalent doctorate-level dental degrees from one of the 56 dental schools in the United States accredited by the American Dental Association. According to the American Dental Association, the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degrees teach the same course content and have similar prerequisites for admission. Dental school takes four years, in addition to the four years needed to complete a bachelor's degree program.

Students interested in earning a DDS or DMD must a strong background in science and mathematics. While some undergraduate institutions offer a pre-dental program that prepares students to earn dental degrees, most dental schools do not require students to complete such programs. Dental schools require applicants to achieve a satisfactory score on the Dental Admissions Test (DAT).

DDS and DMD programs cover the theoretical knowledge and practical experience needed to work as oral health care professionals. Coursework emphasizes subjects in the natural sciences and mathematics. Doctorate programs in dentistry usually cover the topics listed below:

  • Oral biochemistry
  • Orthodontics
  • Assessing dental problems
  • Oral surgery procedures and oral medicine
  • Oral pathology
  • Implantology

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of dental assistant jobs is expected to increase by 18% between 2014 and 2024 ( In 2015, the BLS states that dental assistants made a median annual wage of $35,980.

According to the BLS, approximately 200,500 dental hygienists were employed in 2014. The lowest-paid ten percent of hygienists made around $50,140 annually, while the highest-paid ten percent earned over $98,440. Average annual wages for dental hygienists were $72,330. The BLS predicted job growth of 19% for dental hygienists from 2014 to 2024.

The BLS estimated that job growth for dentists will be 18% between 2014 and 2024. In May 2015, the BLS reported that general practice dentists made a median annual wage of $158,310.

Students with dental degrees will see jobs flourish in the coming years. Those with the proper training will be prepared to pursue these new opportunities for dental assistants, dental hygienists, and dentists.

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