An associate's degree in dental hygiene is most common, and students who earn this degree are qualified to pursue state-mandated dental hygienist licensure. Some bachelor's programs are designed specifically for licensed dental hygienists, and they may include coursework and extensive clinical experience beyond that of an associate's program in dental administration or research. Both associate's and bachelor's programs include lecture-based coursework and hands-on practical experiences.
Prerequisites for an associates degree include a high school diploma or the equivalent; a bachelor's degree may require licensure, ACT or SAT scores, and AP courses in high school.
Associate's Degree in Dental Hygiene
Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) and Associate of Science (A.S.) programs in dental hygiene are the most commonly awarded degrees in this field. Programs cover the concepts and vocabulary that dental hygienists use to teach patients to care for their own teeth. Classes prepare graduates to provide preventative oral care and education to patients, and coursework includes dental hygiene theory and practical dental hygiene skills development through hands-on simulations. They learn to apply fluoride and sealants, process x-rays and clean teeth and gums. Students take classes in:
- Dental anatomy
- Clinical dental hygiene
- Oral pathology
- Oral cleaning technology
Bachelor's Degree in Dental Hygiene
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree programs delve into advanced dental hygiene skills and provide opportunities for broadening career options in areas such as teaching, administration and research. Some dental hygiene B.S. and B.A. programs require incoming students to be licensed dental hygienists prior to admission. Applicants typically need strong skills in science, math and communication, so completing advanced placement high school courses in algebra, chemistry, biology and English composition is beneficial. Most applicants also need to submit their scores on either the ACT or SAT Reasoning Test. Students learn the history of dental hygiene theory, discover how to recognize a variety of oral pathologies, and are often required to compile extensive clinical experience before graduation. Programs also emphasize methods of maintaining cleanliness to prevent oral illnesses. Coursework may include:
- Oral embryology
- Oral radiology
- Dental pharmacology
- Preventive dental care
- Tooth morphology
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) predicted job growth of 19% for dental hygienists for the years 2014 through 2024. These workers made median annual wages of $72,330 in May 2015.
Continuing Education Information
Upon completion of a dental hygienist degree program, graduates must take the required licensure exams to become a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) before providing dental care to patients. They then must pass a clinical and written exam to earn their license. A few schools offer master's degree programs in dental hygiene that are designed to prepare educators, administrators and supervisors.
A two-year associates program in dental hygiene is a common way to enter into the field or students can advance their knowledge and skill by earning a bachelor's degree, which requires an additional two years of school. Both programs will equip students with the knowledge required to competently work as a dental hygienist.