Dental Hygienists Training and Education

Training to be a Dental Hygienist

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Dentist Hygienist Training

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A career as a dental hygienist can be a rewarding one. In this field, you will typically work alongside a licensed dentist. Instructing patients in proper oral hygiene will obviously be a large part of your focus, along with conducting patient assessments, oral inspections, and teeth cleanings. You will typically work in a general or specialty dental clinic, though dental hygienists are also in demand in hospitals, institutions and other health care facilities.

The Skinny on Dental Hygienist Training

To become a dental hygienist, you will be required to complete a two year degree at the very least. For a career in this field, you do have the option to only acquire a certificate or associate’s degree, though you will be required to pass tests for a State license as well.

Obviously, both time and tuition costs make a certificate or associate’s degree the most popular option; however, taking your education further to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree may open up far greater opportunities for you – both in better salaries and a wider range of job choices.

Starting Early

Before you begin your studies to become a dental hygienist, you will need to be at least 18 years old and have your high school diploma or GED. If you’re still in high school and are considering this field as a potential career, it’s a good idea to put a major focus on studies in chemistry, biology, mathematics and English, as these subjects will contribute to your future studies.

In order to be admitted to a dental hygienist program, you will need to have maintained an average (minimum) grade of C. Of course, you will also be expected to pass college entrance exams at the school of your choice.

Certificate Program

This basic certification program is one offered at many community colleges, technical schools and universities. The course is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), and can usually be completed within 2-3 years. In many cases, after completing your certification you’ll be eligible to sit for your State licensing exams.

In a certificate program, you’ll study a fairly comprehensive program balanced between classroom studies and actual hands-on clinical practice. You’ll learn about oral care, teeth cleaning, and oral diseases, including topics like:

  • Oral and dental anatomy
  • Dental radiology
  • Clinical and dental hygiene
  • Clinical periodontics
  • Dental materials
  • Dental ethics

Depending on your state, a certificate may prove sufficient to meet the initial state licensing requirements. In many cases, however, you will be expected to continue your education before your license can be renewed.

Associate’s Degree

Your Associate in Dental Hygiene program will take about two years to complete and should provide the skills, techniques and knowledge you’ll need while assisting a dentist. It can often be difficult to get into a dental hygiene program, as admission is often limited.

You may be required to meet certain educational and practical requirements before you will be considered for admission. In some cases, for example, you will be tested in areas like manual dexterity and spatial perception, and some schools may even require a certain amount of work experience or recorded hours of observation in a dental clinic.

An associate’s degree program will typically include many laboratory courses, and you may be expected to complete your own independent research project. Your studies will build on your certificate coursework, and include advanced studies like:

  • Dental biology
  • Dental radiation
  • Dental hygiene concepts
  • Periodontics
  • Dental materials and equipment
  • Medical law and ethics

At this point, most graduates prepare to take the state examinations for licensing as a dental hygienist. Once they have completed their Associate program and received their state license, students will begin work in a dentist’s office. Some, however, do choose to further their education in the field of dental hygiene, while still others decide to pursue careers as dental assistants.

Bachelor’s Degree

If you choose to carry on into a 4-year bachelor’s degree program, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of both the clinical and theoretical aspects of dental hygiene and oral health. You’ll go far beyond the basics and gain a very strong background in dental, clinical and biomedical sciences.

In order to enter this program, you will typically be expected to complete college-level courses in subjects like physical sciences, mathematics, English, and communications. Once you’re enrolled in the program, you’ll learn many hands-on skills that you’ll use in your career as a health professional – skills like using x-ray equipment, prepping patients for examinations, performing basic examinations yourself, and administering fluoride treatments and applying sealant to teeth.

Course work for a bachelor’s degree will comprehensively round out your practical education in the field of dental hygiene, and will cover topics like:

  • Head and neck anatomy
  • Oral histology and embryology
  • Oral radiology
  • Local anesthesia
  • Pharmacology for dental hygiene
  • Tooth morphology

In addition to your educational requirements, you will be expected to put in at least 1000 hours in a pre-clinical and clinical setting. These hours can be gained while working under faculty members or under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

Master’s Degree

The Master of Science in Dental Hygiene is a program geared toward certified, working professionals who want to increase their knowledge in the field even further. Typically, this 2-year graduate degree is one pursued by dental hygienists who want to branch into wider career opportunities – most often, a career in education. The program is designed to enhance the in-depth knowledge that a professional should already possess with courses like scientific dental hygiene writing and research methodology.

State Licensing Exam

Once you have earned your degree, you will need to get your license in the state where you intend to work. Specific eligibility requirements vary somewhat from state to state; however, regardless of your state, you’ll be required to sit for the written exam administered by the American Dental Association, as well as to complete a clinical board examination.

4 Responses to Dental Hygienists Training and Education

  1. Susie Sanders on September 25, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    This is a wonderful and stable career for only a 2 year degree.

    • Bob Rapp on September 26, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      Thank you, Susie, for your input, and best of luck with your Dental Hygiene program at San Joaquin Valley College.


  2. James on March 10, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    There are number of things to know as a dental hygienists profession and I am very much thankful to the owner of this site. The site gives each and every detail of each profession in medical. The best thing about this site is that it provides all the information that is easy to understand and important to professionals.

    • Bob Rapp on April 21, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Thank you for your feedback, James, and much success in all that you do, Bob