Dental Hygienist: Educational Requirements for Dental Hygienists

Learn how to become a dental hygienist. Research basic and advanced education programs as well as the licensure you'll need to start a career in the dental hygiene field.

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Dental Hygienist Educational Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while some dental hygienists enter the field with a certificate, an associate's degree is the most common level of education among dental hygienists ( Those who hold bachelor's or master's degrees are generally eligible for upper-level positions in public health or education. The American Dental Association's (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation approved 270 dental hygiene programs, as of 2013.

Associate's Degree

Available at community colleges, dental schools and technical institutions, associate's degree programs in dental hygiene typically comprise two years of full-time study. Coursework focuses on technical dental applications, combining classroom instruction with hands-on training in laboratory and clinical settings. Core courses often include pre-clinical hygiene, orofacial anatomy, dental radiology, preventive care, pharmacology and periodontics.

Advanced Degrees

Dental hygienists can pursue career advancement by earning a bachelor's and/or master's degree, which typically is required for clinical practice, teaching and research positions. Some bachelor's degree programs require applicants to complete two years of prerequisite coursework before granting admission. These baccalaureate programs consist of two years of upper-level instruction, including clinical seminars, practicums and courses in dental hygiene procedures. Master's degree programs typically focus on research and theory in the field and require completion of clinical practicums and a thesis project.

Dental Hygienist Licensure

To serve in the profession, dental hygienists must obtain licensure from their state's board of dentistry. In most states, licensure entails completion of an accredited dental hygiene program. Candidates must also pass a state-administered clinical exam and - in all states except Alabama - the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, a written exam administered by the ADA. Most states also require passage of an additional exam that covers dental law.

Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS estimates a 38% job growth for dental hygienists in the decade 2010-2020. They earned a median annual wage of $70,210 in May 2012, according to the BLS.

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