Dental Hygienist Education Requirements

Dental hygienists remove deposits such as plaque and tartar from patients' teeth, take x-rays and apply fluoride treatments. The training required to become a dental hygienist typically includes a certificate or associate's degree in dental hygiene. Licensed dental hygienists may also obtain advanced education in order to broaden their careers in the field.

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Education Requirements for Dental Hygienists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, the minimum educational requirement for work as a dental hygienist typically consists of a 2-year certificate program or associate's degree program in dental hygiene from an institution accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. This level of education will qualify aspiring dental hygienists to pursue state licensure, which all states require. Program applicants must have a high school education. More advanced degrees are available for those wishing to move into dental hygiene research or work in public health programs.

Certificate in Dental Hygiene

Certificate programs in dental hygiene can be completed in 2-3 years. The curriculum combines classroom learning with a clinical laboratory component. In this manner, students can gain practical experience before entering the workforce. This requirement teaches students how to treat sensitive gums and tooth decay, record patient histories and inform patients on proper oral care.

As part of their classroom education, students will gain knowledge in dental sciences and commonly used dental techniques. The majority of dental hygiene certificate programs comprise of core courses in such subjects as:

  • Dental hygiene practice and theory
  • Local anesthesia
  • Dental pharmacology
  • Oral and general pathology
  • Periodontology

Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene

Many associate's degree programs in dental hygiene also include clinical experiences, which allow students to gain work under the supervision of a dental health care professional. Students can observe dentists who work in specialty areas, such as periodontal and preventive dental care. In their clinical experiences, students will learn how to seal cavities with lubricant, apply teeth fluorides, conduct oral x-rays and teach patients better dental care.

An Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene degree program offers two years of education and training in labs and classroom environments. The classroom portion of the program features common courses, such as:

  • Oral biology
  • Community dental health
  • Dental materials
  • Nutrition in dentistry
  • Legal responsibility in dentistry

Advanced Degree Options

While an undergraduate degree is all that's necessary for a clinical career in dental hygiene, some dental hygienists pursue advanced education in the field. Advanced degree programs are generally reserved for students who plan to pursue academic and research careers or practice in school or public health programs. Bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene are classified as either completion programs or entry-level clinical programs. At the master's level, dental hygiene programs often focus on areas of research, education and management.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, dental hygienists earned an annual median salary of $71,110. The BLS also projected 33% job growth for these professionals, which is much faster than average, from 2012-2022.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics