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How to Find Dental Hygienist Schools Near Me

Dental Hygiene is an in-demand career, and you’re taking the first important steps on the road to becoming a qualified professional.

There are over 360 colleges across the US waiting for your application. Most of these are nationally-accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation and will prepare you to take the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam (NBDHE).

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How to Become a dental hygienist: Education & Licensing

Most states require that their hygienists have completed training at an CODA-accredited program at a recognized institution, and that they have completed Parts I and II of the NBDHE exam. There may be additional educational requirements for expanded functions such as the use of X-ray equipment or the administration of local anesthesia.

Requirements vary for each state. You will find details of state requirements and program offerings near you on these pages:

Dental Hygiene Degrees

Most college programs award an Associate of Applied Science degree on completion. Some colleges offer advanced studies for those who want to take their career to the next level and a full Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygiene. Because of the clinical requirement, there are no online hygienist AAS degrees. There are, however, online completion degrees that take students who already hold an AAS degree to Bachelor’s degree level. Such degrees tend to be offered by four-year universities.

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Can a Dental Assistant Become a Dental Hygienist?

Yes. You read more about that subject here.

How long is dental hygienist school?

Education programs typically take two to two-and-a-half (for an associate degree) years and will include both didactic and clinical experiences. Many colleges have their own clinics which allow students to gain valuable clinical time without leaving the campus. If you wish to progress to a Bachelor’s degree, then you will need to study a full four years.

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How hard is it to complete a program?

Dental hygiene school is vigorous. Like many highly technical programs of study, you need to work consistently throughout the program and make sure you fully understand each component before you start the next. If there is a gap in your knowledge or understanding from a prior module, you will not manage at the more advanced levels of study. Therefore, leaving study to the end of the program will lead to difficulties. As this personal account testifies, procrastination is not an option. You will be constantly juggling classes, with clinical work and assignments, so being organized and disciplined in your study is of fundamental importance.

What are the prerequisite courses for a dental hygiene program?

Prerequisite courses usually include Chemistry, Biology and Microbiology at a minimum grade “C” level as well as General Education subjects. Most colleges expect a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5. Most will require that you hold a high school certificate, GED or equivalent, and that you hold a current CPR certificate.

Most degree programs are offered at public community colleges. As such, costs are generally low, especially if you attend a community college in the state in which you are resident. Some community colleges make further discounts for residents of the district where the school is located. All programs will require at least two years of study. For example, a resident of the Austin Community College District in Texas would pay $2,550 in annual tuition fees to study at local community college. A resident of Monmouth County in New Jersey would pay $3,653 in annual tuition fees to do the same. Bear in mind that costs are usually calculated on a cost-per-credit basis.

If you attend a private university or college, you can expect costs to be significantly higher. The American Dental Association estimates that the average cost of tuition (both private and public) for an Associate degree for in-district/in-state students is $22,692.

You should also budget for books and supplies of approximately $1,500, the costs of uniforms and basic equipment, room and board if necessary, transportation (you will probably have to move between campus and centers where you gain clinical experience) and medical insurance.

What do Dental Hygienists Do?

Dental Hygienist

Dental Hygienists form an increasingly important part of the dental clinic. They are specialists in cleaning teeth, but their role is much bigger and covers all aspects of preventative care. They examine the mouth for signs of oral disease such as caries (dental cavities), gum disease – the most common of which is gingivitis, infectious diseases such as oral herpes, and oral cancer. They also play an important role in patient education, health promotion, pain management, infection control and helping patients to maintain and improve their oral health.

How to get a Dental Hygiene License

To earn your license you must complete an education program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are approximately 330 CODA-accredited dental hygiene programs in the United States. The American Dental Hygenists’ Association (ADHA) also has information on the different types of programs available, including entry-level programs, re-entry programs (for those returning to the profession after an absence), online or distance-leaning programs, degree completion programs (for associate’s degree holders who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree) and master of dental science programs.

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Most programs are offered though community colleges and take a minimum of two years to complete, culminating in an associate’s degree. Some university-based dental hygiene programs offer bachelor’s or even master’s degrees, which may be necessary for some more advanced career opportunities.

Financial aid for students may be available through federal student aid or from colleges and universities directly. In addition, the ADHA Institute for Oral Health offers scholarships, grants and fellowships for dental hygiene students.

Hygienists must be licensed by a state before they may practice there. Almost all states will require you to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination in addition to the state licensing examination before they are eligible to practice. The scope of duties for which yo may be licensed may vary slightly from state to state. Generally, you will also be required to obtain a CPR certification.

Career Options and Employers

Private dental offices are the primary employers of hygienists. In these settings, practicing in close collaboration with other health professionals, dental hygienists are involved in the assessment of oral health and the diagnosis, treatment, control and prevention of oral diseases. Additional services may include oral cancer screening, dental charting, counseling about nutrition, and taking and developing radiographs. They may also perform similar duties while working in hospitals, schools, prison facilities, public health clinics or nursing homes.

While clinical settings are the most common employment situations, there are other opportunities for professionals who want to move beyond clinical work.

Some hygienists become corporate representatives or even entrepreneurs, marketing dental products or services, working as consultants, or developing oral health products.

Research opportunities are also available, through college and universities, corporations, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies. Hygienists in these settings may be employed to conduct consumer research, or to test the efficacy of new dental products, procedures or theories.

Professionals with a wealth of experience in clinical settings or other areas of practice may decide to help educate the next generation of oral health professionals. Colleges and universities employ hygienists as both classroom instructors and clinical instructors, and corporations may also employ hygienists as continuing education instructors.

Many also enter the field of administration, applying their experience to office management, direction of education programs, or heading corporate sales.

Employment opportunities in areas such as research, education and administration are likely to require a foundation of clinical experience in addition to some advanced education. Educational requirements may range from a handful of continuing education courses in specialty areas to a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Depending on the career path they hope to pursue, some hygienists may need or want to further their education in outside fields, such as marketing or management.

Additional Opportunities in Clinical Practice

Dental hygienist atwork

Those who continue to practice in clinical settings may also find additional opportunities available to them. Private dental offices that offer a variety of advanced oral health procedures such as orthodontics may offer a wider range of responsibilities to dental hygienists.

Some hygienists also make the decision to enter into independent practice. While this can be a more demanding career choice than joining a dental team in an established practice, it can be rewarding for those individuals who enjoy the freedom of self-employment and the challenge of managing their own business and clients.

The 2011 ADHA Environmental Scan projects that “by 2020, as more dentists retire, there will only be one dentist per 1,800 people.” In addition, the growth of high-paying specializations such as regenerative dentistry is likely to draw more new dentists away from standard dental practices. The ADHA speculates that this may prompt legislative changes, increasing the legal scope of responsibilities for dental hygienists. This could result in additional jobs as well as higher-paying jobs for these professionals.

Career Outlook

The employment outlook for professionals in the field is solid. In January of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment in this sector was likely to grow by 6 percent from 2019 to 2029. This is a slightly higher rate of growth than the average for all occupations in the United States, though slightly lower than the rate for healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners generally. There were over 226,000 people employed as dental hygienists in 2020.

Much of this growth is expected to be driven by the fact that an increasing body of research has linked good oral health with good overall physical health. This is prompting a growing demand for preventative dental services such as professional teeth cleanings, application of preventative materials such as fluoride, and counseling regarding good oral health practices. Many of these preventative services fall under the approved practices for hygienists.

Salaries for Hygienists

Annual wages also compare favorably to wages across all occupations, and also to similar occupations. The average annual wage for dental hygienists in May 2020 was $77,090, but the top 10% were earning over $104,420. The average annual wage for all occupations in 2020 was $41,950, and the average annual wage in the broad category of health technologists and technicians was$48,990.