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What to Expect from a Dental Hygienist Program?

By: CareerFactsheet editors- Updated: Jun. 21, 2017

Dental hygienists are oftentimes misconstrued as dental assistants due to some overlapping job descriptions. However, these are two entirely different jobs because while they are related to one another, a dental hygienist performs more technical and complicated tasks such as teeth bleaching, application of fluoride, and ordering teeth x-ray of patients, among others – tasks that cannot be performed by dental assistants.

So, how do you begin a career in dental hygiene?

Education Prerequisites

To gain entrance into the dental hygiene program, the minimum requirement is that applicants have completed at least a high school diploma. Other factors that determine acceptance into the program include GED score of 3.0 and at least 18 years of age at the start of the course.

When looking for a dental hygienist school, you must ensure that the educational institution and its program curriculum for dental hygienists is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA).

Dental Hygienist Programs

Certificate program or associate's degree: The minimum requirement to get you started is to complete a certificate program or associate's degree in dental hygiene that can be completed within a 2-year period. The course includes classroom and clinical instruction under the administration of a qualified dental health professional to strengthen a student's practical experience prior to actually working as a dental hygienist. During the clinical instruction phase, students get to observe dentists while at work and at the same, experience firsthand how it is to work in an actual dental clinic.

Typically, training consist of learning how to apply treatment to sensitive gums and teeth, preventive dental care, apply fluorides, use of various dental machines and tools, some office management skills, and other dental techniques. Therefore, common subjects consist of dental hygiene practices and theories, pharmacology, oral pathology, histology, psychology, radiography, periodontology, nutrition in dentistry, and work ethics, among others.

Bachelor's degree: Advanced degrees such as bachelor's and master's degrees are also available for those who intend to practice the dental hygiene profession at the start of their career, but plan to work in academic research, as a dental hygiene professor, or work in management. Typically, bachelor's degrees maybe completed within 4-years of study, while a master's degree within a period of 2-years after completing the bachelor's program.


Does this course require certifications or licensure exams? Yes. Students who complete either the 2-year or 4-year program are required to pass a State licensure exam for hygienists. However, requirements vary from one State to another, thus, it is advisable to check with the State's local health board about the prerequisites for taking such an exam. What is sure, though, is that graduates are eligible to take exams IF they graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school.

Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists

Based on reports released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment prospects for dental hygienists is expected to grow by 19% from 2014 up to 2024, which equates to more than 37,400 open jobs for dental hygienists for this period. This makes the profession one of the in-demand careers in the coming years, as oral health is continuously associated with one's general well-being. Unlike in previous generations, people are more apt to care for their teeth, thus, the need for dental hygienists will always be there.

In relation to this, as dentists focus on more complicated procedures and new technologies, the role of a dental hygienist expands in the sense that more tasks previously done by dentists only are now reassigned to hygienists.

Salary Data

Typically, newly graduates earn a minimum of $30,000 a year, but as you gain clinical experience, you can be assured an annual salary of up to $90,000. Salary depends on the State where you will set up your practice, thus, consider this when you start looking for a job. For instance, Alabama and Utah are two of the States that pay the least for dental hygienists ($40,000-$43,000), while Nevada, Washington, and California are among the States that offer great salary package for hygienists at $84,000-$93,000 per annum.

Do your research before you make your final decision regarding the dental hygiene school you will apply to, including other pertinent information such as entrance requirements, training programs offered, State licensure exams, and others, to help you get started in your career as a dental hygienist.

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