Students interested in becoming dental hygienists have two primary degree options. A 2-year degree is the most common degree pursued by aspiring dental hygienists, but bachelor's degree programs are available as well. Students can expect to learn about proper oral hygiene, cleaning techniques, and conditions like gum disease. At both levels of study, students will participate in field experiences at local dental clinics or offices. Some schools offer programs or courses online.
Prerequisites for an associate's degree include a high school diploma and minimum education requirements in major subject areas. ACT or SAT scores may be required. Bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, or an associate's degree in dental hygiene; ACT or SAT scores are required, and schools of dentistry may also request letters of recommendation. Both associate's and bachelor's degree programs require intensive clinical components, such as hours of hands-on experience in a healthcare setting.
Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene
An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Dental Hygiene introduces students to the field of dental science. Many associate degree programs in dental hygiene focus on clinical experience and general education coursework. The first year of an AAS program in dental hygiene introduces students to dental science and focuses on meeting general education requirements. The clinical component of the degree, which is typically completed in the second year of enrollment, is satisfied by meeting a minimum number of hours in a healthcare setting. Prospective students should ensure that their AAS program in dental hygiene is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which is an educational governing body of the American Dental Association. Courses in this program may include:
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Dental hygiene and Periodontology
- Local anesthesia
- Oral histopathology
Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene
A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Dental Hygiene offers a more thorough introduction to the field of dental science by including two years of clinical experience into its curriculum. The clinical component of the degree will train students in oral health assessments, oral disease examination, oral cancer screening procedures and filling and periodontal dressing removal and placement. Some B.S. programs may cover topics such as the administration of anesthetics and dental filling material placement. Some courses address dental science theory and may include:
- Oral radiology
- Compromised patient care
- Basic and applied dental pharmacology
- Ethics in dental science
- Clinical dental hygiene
Popular Career Options
Many graduates of a B.S. program in dental hygiene pursue careers as licensed dental hygienists. Other options include working as a dental hygiene researcher or a community dental health manager.
Job Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the estimated growth in employment of dental hygienists is expected to be about 19% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This excellent job growth figure is attributed to the growing number of elderly in the United States and their increased need for dental care. According to the BLS, the median annual salary of a dental hygienist, as of May 2015, was $72,330.
Dental hygienists can receive their necessary education with either a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. Each degree will yield the clinical training necessary to work in the field; however, a bachelor's degree program will provide more in-depth studies and practice in the field.