Associate of Dental Hygiene: Degree Overview

Dental hygiene plays an important role in keeping teeth and gums healthy. In today's health-conscious environment, skilled dental hygienists are in very high demand. An associate's degree program in dental hygiene, usually offered as an Associate of Science, can provide students with the education necessary to enter this career field. This article includes additional information relevant to students who are interested in these degrees and the careers that can come from them.

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Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene

An associate's degree in dental hygiene degree provides students with education and training in preventive care for teeth and gums. These programs can generally be finished in two years. These degree programs feature a combination of classroom education mixed with clinical lab experiences. For example, during the clinical portion, students learn the essential tasks of hygienists, which may include administering cleanings and fluoride treatments, as well as conducting x-rays and providing periodontal therapy. Some programs feature additional practice, which allows students to obtain experience working under the supervision of a dentist or other dental healthcare professional. All students are also trained to educate patients regarding the care of their own teeth and gums.

Educational Prerequisites

Students should have a high school education or equivalent, in addition to meeting minimum age and GPA requirements, before entering a program. Some programs request specific courses to be completed in high school with passing grades, such as English, mathematics, science or social studies. Additionally, some degree programs require students to complete general education courses in college, such as anatomy, physiology, psychology and sociology, prior to partaking in core courses.

Course Topics

In addition to learning about dental materials and obtaining required skills for the profession, an associate of dental hygiene degree program features classroom education. Common courses include these:

  • Dental and oral anatomy
  • Clinical and dental hygiene
  • Radiography
  • Dental pharmacology
  • Histology
  • Tooth structure
  • Oral pathology

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of dental hygiene is growing at a rapid rate, due to increasing public awareness of the appearance of their teeth and the importance of dental health (www.bls.gov). Dental offices are also hiring more hygienists to handle x-rays and cleanings, so that dentists can focus their attention on patients who have more serious issues. A 38% increase in dental hygienists is expected between 2010-2020, according to the BLS. The BLS expects economical trends to affect demand for these services, so there might be problems finding employment or getting enough hours when demand is weak.

The BLS states that over a half of all dental hygienists worked part-time in 2010, so many work for more than one office in order to boost wages. As of May 2012, dental hygienists earned mean annual salaries of $70,700 per year. Those in the top ten percent in earnings made $96,280 or more per year, which equals $46.29 per hour. California paid a mean annual wage of $93,280 per year, which was the highest pay of all states in the United States, while also employing more hygienists than anywhere in the country in May 2012.

Licensing and Continuing Education Information

Students must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, which is offered by the American Dental Association, in order to be legally licensed for employment (www.ada.org). The exam covers dental hygiene knowledge and skills for those interested in obtaining careers in the field. Some states may also have additional licensing requirements.

Dental hygienists who want to advance their careers often pursue additional education. Advanced degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science degree in dental hygiene, can help them accomplish this. Hygienists who want to become researchers, teachers, dentists or even enter management careers, may find these programs valuable. Greater responsibilities, salaries and career opportunities may result when a hygienist completes an advanced education program.

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