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Can I Study Dental Hygiene Online?

A career as a dental hygienist gives you an opportunity to provide a vital service to patients while working closely with dentists. On the job, you’ll examine patients, take x-rays, provide preventative care of teeth and gums and maintain patient records.

At some schools, part of your training to become a dental hygienist may be done online, but you’ll also need some hands-on clinical training. When you work in a lab or clinical environment, you’ll be able to practice your skills examining patients, removing buildup from teeth and explaining procedures to patients.

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Types of Dental Hygiene Degrees

You can get started working as a dental hygienist by obtaining an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, which can usually be completed in two to three years. You may also choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field.

Some dental hygienists complete an associate’s degree first and work for a few years before going on to pursue a bachelor’s degree. If you’re a working hygienist, when you go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree, it’s called a completion degree. Completion degrees are sometimes offered online since you already have hands-on experience.

Whichever degree you decide to pursue, every state requires dental hygienists to obtain a license to work in the field. Your state’s Board of Dental Examiners can give you the information you need to obtain a license in your state.

What Classes are Needed for Dental Hygiene?

If you choose a program that has online access, you’ll need reliable access to the Internet along with an up-to-date web browser. The online portion of a dental hygiene program often includes a variety of science or general information classes. These may include:

  • Biology
  • Head and neck anatomy
  • Medical terminology
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Dental radiography

You’ll learn tooth morphology, which is the study of the form and structure of teeth. Oral health information is covered in detail so that you’ll have the information you need to relay preventative care information to patients.

Salary and Job Potential for Dental Hygienists with an Associate’s Degree

The field of dental hygiene is a lucrative career with plenty of job opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for dental hygienists as of May 2019 was $76,220. The median salary refers to the salary in which half those who worked in this field earned more and half earned less. Pay can be anywhere between $53,130 and $103,340.

Across the United States, dental hygiene is a growing field partly due to an aging population along with growing awareness of the importance of preventative dental care.  Projected employment between 2018 and 2028 is 11 percent according to CareerOneStop.

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Online Schools for Dental Hygiene

Pursuing a degree in dental hygiene at a school that’s blended between online classes and in-person clinical training can give you the training and skills you need to get started in the field of dental hygiene. Some examples of online dental hygiene programs include:

  • St. Petersburg College. This is one of the largest degree completion programs in the nation. It’s offered completely online and provides a way for working dental hygienists to progress from their associate’s degree to their bachelor’s degree. Courses are offered one at a time for six to eight weeks, and the program can be completed in 24 months.
  • Utah Valley University. A two-year degree in dental hygiene is required to qualify for this online completion program. There’s no clinical component to this program, so it’s intended for working professionals to increase their knowledge of the field and prepare for more advanced positions.
  • University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Dental hygienists with an associate’s degree can pursue their bachelor’s degree at this completion program, and students can choose to pursue this in person or through e-learning. Classes provide a broad-based education, preparing graduates to qualify for career options beyond clinical practice.

Your Career as a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists need active listening skills and the ability to be sensitive to patients who may be nervous about dental care or dental procedures. You’ll need good finger dexterity and to be able to see details up close. You should be a detail-oriented person, because you’ll be expected to follow specific protocols when treating patients.

Most dental hygienists work in the offices of dentists, which include specialists such as periodontists or pediatric dentists. A small number of jobs are available working for the government or for physicians. With a bachelor’s degree, you may work in an educational or public health setting. You may also work in management or at a research facility.

Completing a program in dental hygiene, whether in person or through a blended program that combines online classes with in-person classes, prepares you for a career that’s well-paid, fulfilling and often offers a flexible schedule. The need for people of all ages to maintain their teeth continues to drive the need for the skilled care of dental hygienists.