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How To Become a Dental Hygienist?

By: CareerFactsheet editors- Updated: Jun 21,2017

What does a dental hygienist do? Aside from helping a dentist run the clinic, a dental hygienist is tasked to educate patients on the role of good oral hygiene in the maintenance of your teeth and gums. They also perform duties that dentists do such as removing plaque and hard deposits from your teeth, taking dental images of teeth, and application of fluorides and sealants, among others. If a clinic does not employ a dental assistant, hygienists may also perform some minor administrative tasks including maintenance of patient records, billing, and scheduling appointments.

Preparing Yourself towards a Dental Hygienist Career

If you are considering a career in dental hygiene, following are important information that you should take into account.

Education Requirements

The minimum educational requirement to practice this profession is an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Although other dental hygiene programs are available such as certificate courses and bachelor's degree, usually, the associate's degree is already enough to get you started in this career. Typically, higher education such as a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in dental hygiene is geared towards a different career route that includes teaching and research. If you opt to set up your practice as a resident school dental hygienist, then obtaining higher education is advisable.

For high schools students interested in this career path, taking science and math subjects while in school will help you easily understand the higher math and science subjects offered in the course. Because schools have varying application requirements, some programs would require students at least a year of college study prior to acceptance into the dental hygiene program.

Typical Subjects

Dental Hygienist Training

To prepare students when it comes to actual dental office setup, courses are usually offered with laboratory and clinical sessions on top of students' classroom instruction. Some of the subjects include anatomy, physiology, radiography, pharmacology, histology, microbiology, and nutrition, among others.

Training Route

For full time students, there are vocational schools, community colleges, and universities offering this course. Fortunately, there are also those who recognize that not all students can study full time. Therefore, some schools offer online or distance education programs for part-time students where majority of the subjects can be completed online, while some schools require campus visits for exams and table clinic sessions.

Some of these schools include Northern Arizona University (AZ), Loma Linda University (CA), Nova Southeastern University (FL), St. Petersburg College (FL), Clayton State University (GA), and Wichita State University (KS).


After finishing a dental hygiene program from an accredited American Dental Association (ADA) school, your next step is to take a licensure test for dental hygienists. This includes taking written and clinical tests in the State where you intend to practice. Every State has its own licensure requirements, thus, check with your local licensing board for details.

Personal Qualities

Because the job of a dental hygienist requires constant interaction with patients, it is important that you possess the following attributes to become successful in this career.

  • Good interpersonal skills. You must be personable enough especially when dealing with dentists and patients.
  • Compassionate. Remember that some patients might have had negative dental experiences during childhood that they still carry to adulthood. Be sensitive enough when handling these patients to help them overcome their fear and bad experiences.
  • Strong attention to detail. Because dentists allow hygienists to perform some of their tasks, there are some work protocols that you should follow when treating patients. Be mindful of instructions given by the dentist to ensure a smooth working relationship.
  • Agile and deft with hands. As hygienist, your work is mainly done with the use of your hands, thus, it is crucial that you work accurately and with dexterity when treating patients.

Knowing how to properly operate dental machines, powered instruments, and tools is the first step to ensuring patient safety. In this light, master the instruments and skills in handling the tools to make your job easier for yourself and harmless for the patients.

If you think you have what it takes to succeed in the dental hygiene industry, begin your career now by getting proper education and licensing requirements.

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