What Will I Learn in an Associate’s Degree Program in Dental Hygiene?

Dental hygienists are a key part of any dental team. As a dental hygienist, you work closely with the dentist, providing oral hygiene and preventive care along with examining patients for signs of dental disease.

An associate’s degree program in dental hygiene consists of both classroom and hands-on training. Your studies may include:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • English
  • Dental courses such as dental anatomy, radiography and oral pathology
  • Nutrition and health
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A high school diploma or the equivalent is required for admission to an associate’s program. Completing an associate’s degree in dental hygiene gives you the education you need to get started in this field.

What Can You do with an Associate’s Degree in Dental Hygiene?

Once you’ve completed an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, you’re eligible to take the exam to become a licensed dental hygienist. Licensing is required in all states, and information on what’s specifically required for your state can be obtained from your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

 As a licensed dental hygienist with an associate’s degree, you’re ready to begin working. Your job duties will include:

  • Taking and developing dental x-rays
  • Removing plaque, tartar and stains from teeth
  • Examining teeth, mouth, gums and facial structures and reporting findings to the dentist
  • Educating patients about good oral hygiene including the use of tools such as dental floss
  • Documenting dental care provided

Your actual job duties may vary depending on where you work. In some offices, you may also process and sterilize instruments and help with administrative duties such as appointment scheduling.

Is it Better to Get an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygiene?

There are both associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree programs in dental hygiene, and it’s natural to consider which program is the better choice. An associate’s degree gives you the foundation you need to obtain employment working as a dental hygienist in dentist’s offices. Besides dentist offices, employment opportunities can sometimes be found in specialty dentist’s offices such as periodontists or pediatric dentists, in physician’s offices or working for the government.

A bachelor’s degree provides you with even more in-depth knowledge of dental hygiene. It also helps to prepare you to qualify for more advanced positions such as management, teaching or research.

What Else is Required to Succeed as a Dental Hygienist?

Associate’s degree programs give you the education you need to work as a dental hygienist, but there are other skills that are beneficial for people working in this field. Some of these include:

  • Interpersonal skills – an ability to interact with others, including sensitivity to patients who may have fears about dental treatment or are experiencing pain
  • Active listening skills – paying attention to patients without interruption
  • Problem solving skills – the ability to follow rules or protocols, which may include working without supervision
  • Good near vision – ability to clearly see things up close
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How Much do Dental Hygienists Make Per Hour with an Associate’s Degree?

The field of dental hygiene can be both lucrative and rewarding. With an associate’s degree, your typical earnings potential ranges between $70,874 and $76,770 per year, according to Salary.com. Your actual earnings can be affected by years of experience and location.

What are Some Associate’s Degree Programs in Dental Hygiene?

There are associate’s degree programs in dental hygiene all over the country. A few examples of programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation include:

  • Farmingdale State College. Located in Farmingdale, NY, students in this program practice their skills by performing a variety of comprehensive services at the college’s Dental Hygiene Care Center. These services include processing and interpreting oral x-rays, assessing oral conditions, non-surgical periodontal surgery, nutritional counseling and patient education.
  • Pima Community College. This college in Tucson, AZ, offers an Associate in Applied Science in Dental Hygiene using a patient-centered and evidence-based approach. Students receive state-of-the-art, hands-on training.
  • Santa Rosa Junior College. This rigorous and challenging program in San Jose, CA, can be completed in five semesters including one summer session after prerequisites are completed. Students attain professional growth through the application of classroom knowledge in clinical, laboratory and community settings.

There are also some schools that offer programs that are at least partially online.

Are There Continuing Education Requirements for Dental Hygienists?

Continuing education courses are required for many licensed professionals, and most states require dental hygienists to complete continuing education units every two to three years for license renewal. The amount of continuing education units needed varies from state to state, and you’ll need to confirm the specific requirements of your state with the state’s dental board.

Working as a Dental Hygienist

As a dental hygienist, you’ll obtain personal fulfillment from working with people and knowing you’re providing a valuable healthcare service. It’s a career that offers flexibility, allowing you to balance career and lifestyle needs by being able to choose between full- or part-time positions. You may also be able to choose to work evenings or weekends in some settings. The services you offer are needed by a large percent of people, and there’s a growing demand for skilled professionals in this field.

Tell us about yourself so we can find programs near you.