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Oral Hygienist Education Requirements and Career Information

Oral hygienists, also called dental hygienists, work in dentist's offices, where they clean patients' teeth and provide other preventative dental care. Both a state license and a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school are required for the job.

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Education Requirements

Most oral hygienists hold an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Generally, an associate's degree is the minimum qualification requirement for state licensure in the field and is also the standard education for individuals aspiring to work in a dentist's office. Dental hygiene students take classes in chemistry, anatomy, microbiology, radiography, periodontology, pathology and clinical dental hygiene. Most programs combine classroom learning with laboratory and clinical work.

Bachelor's and master's degree programs are also available in the field of dental hygiene. These degree programs are designed for individuals who are interested in pursuing research or teaching positions. They are also ideal for those individuals who aspire to offer educational programs in dental hygiene in public schools or community clinics. Such programs often offer advanced courses in dental hygiene procedures and prevention, as well as focus on laboratory and clinical work.

Licensing Requirements

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require oral hygienists to be licensed. While each state's licensing requirements are unique, the majority require candidates to hold a degree from an accredited dental hygiene school. Most states also require aspiring oral hygienists to pass written and clinical examinations. Sometimes an examination on the legal aspects of the dental practice is also administered.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of oral hygienists was $68,250 in May 2010 (www.bls.gov). The lowest ten percent made less than $45,000 and the highest-paid ten percent earned more than $93,820.

According to the BLS, employment of oral hygienists is projected to grow 38% between 2010 and 2020, a rate which is much faster that the average for all U.S. occupations. Job growth is spurred primarily by a growing population and continuing research that links physical health with oral health.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics