How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Learn how to become a dental hygienist. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in dental hygiene. View article »

View 10 Popular Schools »

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

94% college-bound high school students
…said it was important to communicate with colleges during the search process. (Source: Noel-Levitz 2012 trend study)

Select a school or program

View More Schools
Show Me Schools
 Replay
  • 00:01 Essential Information
  • 0:39 Career Requirements
  • 2:11 Undergraduate Education
  • 2:34 Get Licensed
  • 3:08 Advanced Degrees

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Should I Become a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is an oral health professional who works under the supervision of a licensed dentist. Along with teaching patients proper oral hygiene, they may conduct patient assessments, oral inspections, and teeth cleanings. Hygienists may work in either general or specialty dental clinics but may also find employment in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. Dental hygienists must take precautions to prevent the spread of infectious disease and when working with x-rays. Many hours standing or leaning over patients is often required.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Advanced General Dentistry Programs
  • Dental Assisting
  • Dental Clinical Science
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Dental Laboratory Tech
  • Dental Materials
  • Dental Public Health and Education
  • Dentistry - DDS, DMD
  • Endodontics
  • Oral Biology and Oral Pathology
  • Oral Surgery
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate degree; bachelor's or master's for advancement
Degree Field(s) Dental hygiene
Licensure/Certification Licensure required in all states; voluntary certification available
Experience None
Key Skills Solid interpersonal, decision-making, and critical-thinking skills; attention to detail and dexterity; compassion
Mean Annual Salary (2015) $72,720

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The typical degree required is an associate degree in dental hygiene. You may consider completing a bachelor's or master's degree program if you are interested in advancing your career. Programs will focus on teaching you to use dental software, tools, and machines, and courses may include oral pathology, dental materials, radiology, infection control, pain management, periodontics, community dental health, and pharmacology. You'll need to develop solid interpersonal skills; dental hygienists work with patients on a daily basis and often have to explain dental procedures. You must also be compassionate, since patients may be in severe pain or be fearful of dental procedures.

Working with instructors and students in clinical courses can help to strengthen these skills. Also, you will need to use good body mechanics. Dental hygienists are at high risk of occupational injury due to long periods of being in awkward physical positions when working with patients. While in school, be sure to get training on the risks and preventative techniques that can help keep you healthy. If your school doesn't have a body mechanics course, there may be options online.

Other skills you need for this career include dexterity, decision-making, and critical-thinking. Beyond a degree, licensing is a requirement in all states. As for what you can expect to earn in this career field, the mean annual salary for dental hygienists as of 2015 is $72,720, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are three main steps to becoming a dental hygienist:

Step 1: Get an Undergraduate Degree

Dental hygienists usually hold an associates degree, such as an Associate for Applied Science in Dental Hygiene. Two-year degree programs are available at community colleges, vocational institutes, or dental schools. Students are prepared through careers through both classroom and clinical instruction.

Step 2: Get Licensed

Dental hygienists must be licensed in all U.S. states. Eligibility requirements vary, but nearly all states call for applicants to hold postsecondary credentials from accredited dental hygiene programs. Other requirements can include CPR certification, school transcripts, and/or letters of recommendation. Qualified candidates sit for the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, a written exam administered by the American Dental Association, and then complete a regional or state clinical board examination.

Step 3: Consider an Advanced Degree

While associate's degrees are enough for most dental hygienist positions, some hygienists earn higher degrees as a way to advance their careers. Bachelor's and master's degrees in dental hygiene may qualify hygienists for careers beyond the dental office, such as in teaching and research. Additionally, advanced degrees may be necessary for some positions in public health or school clinics.

Next: View Schools

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

    • Master of Healthcare Administration
    • MS in Management - Health Care Management
    • BS in Health Science
    • BS in Healthcare Administration

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Ph.D. Health Sciences
    • BS in Health Sciences
    • Health Administration (BSHA)

    What is your highest level of education completed?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • Health Services Management (MS)

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Career Diploma - Dental Assistant

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Healthcare Administration (MBA)
    • Healthcare Administration (MHA)

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
    • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management

    What is your highest level of education completed?

  • What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Dental Assistant
    • Patient Care Technician

    What is your highest level of education?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?