Dental hygienists review patient histories, take x-rays, clean teeth, make dental impressions, keep records and counsel patients on dental health and nutrition. They must hold at least an associate's degree from an accredited institution and be regionally licensed before being eligible for employment. Some hygienists pursue bachelor's or master's degrees in dental hygiene or a related field for a wider range of career opportunities. Most dental hygienist students engage in supervised clinical internships at local dentist offices or clinics while completing their degree program. This experience provides on-the-job training and practice working closely with patients.
To earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene, students must first have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Students working towards a master's degree must have a bachelor's.
Associate of Science Degree Program
An Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene introduces students to a variety of dental topics. An associate-level course typically contains less experiential elements than a higher-level degree program, but can be completed in two years or less. Students may take courses that that include:
- Dental radiology
- Oral pathology
- Public health
Bachelor of Science Degree Program
The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene is a four-year undergraduate degree program that offers a comprehensive dental hygiene education. Students are required to complete general education courses in addition to dental hygiene classes to earn a baccalaureate degree. Courses are available in a number of topics such as:
- Dental materials
- Oral anatomy
Master of Science Degree Program
A Master of Science in Dental Hygiene is a two-year graduate degree program that is geared towards dental hygienists who wish to pursue a career in education. Many students are already working professionals who wish to increase their knowledge of the field. Students may take courses in:
- Scientific dental hygiene writing
- Local anesthesia
- Research methodology
Dental hygienists must hold a degree from an accredited institution and be licensed by the state in which they plan to work. The American Dental Association (ADA) administers the written portion of the dental hygienist exam. Candidates must also pass a state or regionally administered clinical examination. Only Alabama, which has its own licensing requirements, does not require dental hygienists to take the written ADA exam.
A variety of dental organizations and local colleges offer workshops for dental hygienists. One example is the National Workshop, which was conceived in 2000 to update professionals on dental public health issues. Workshops and seminars may address topics related to technological advances in the field or improved hygienist tools.
Dental hygienists can pursue continuing education courses at community colleges or local universities. Hygienists with a great deal of experience may choose to apply to dental school to become a licensed dentist.
Dental hygienists, who must be licensed in their states, can complete degrees that vary in level of complexity. The associate's is the least in depth and takes two years to complete. A bachelor's builds on what was learned at the associate's level and requires an additional two years. Dental hygienists with aspirations to work in academia may wish to pursue a master's.