How Hard is Dental Hygiene School?

Dental hygiene is a great career choice for those who are interested in a well-paying and fulfilling career in healthcare. It may be a good career choice for you if you enjoy working with people and have a passion for helping them maintain or improve the health of their teeth.

While you might be interested in this line of work, it’s natural to wonder what’s involved in becoming a dental hygienist.  It’s a skilled profession that requires specialized training, and the question often comes up whether the training you have to go through is difficult or very challenging.

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How Long is a Dental Hygiene Program?

Training programs to become a dental hygienist can be done by earning either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. These programs can be found at community colleges, vocational schools and universities.

Associate’s degree programs take two to three years to complete, while earning a bachelor’s degree usually requires four years. Both programs prepare you to get started in this field. The advantage of a bachelor’s degree program is that it prepares you not only to work as a dental hygienist but also for more advanced positions such as management, research or teaching.

Can I take Dental Hygiene Classes Online?

There are some programs in dental hygiene that allow students to take some classes online. Even if you take some classes online, your training will need to include some hands-on clinical training so that you have time to practice the skills you’ll need on the job.

Some individuals get started as a dental hygienist by earning an associate’s degree and then, after working in the field for a few years, choose to go back to earn a bachelor’s degree. This is referred to as a completion degree. Since you already have clinical knowledge and experience, you may be able to earn a completion degree online.

What Subjects Will You Learn in a Dental Hygiene Training Program?

You’ll study several different subjects in a dental hygiene training program. Some of the most common courses included in these training programs are:

  • Anatomy and physiology of the head and neck
  • Dental radiography
  • Oral pathology
  • Infection control
  • Microbiology
  • Periodontology
  • Dental materials

You may find some of these courses challenging and at times you might feel overwhelmed. The course load can be stressful, and you’ll need to be committed to succeeding. There’s a lot to learn, and more will be required of you than just showing up to class. It’s important to keep up with yours studies and not fall behind, and to ask for help if you need it. With effort and hard work, there’s no reason you can’t get through the program.

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Is Dental Hygiene School Difficult to Get Into?

It’s not a surprise that a lot of people want to be dental hygienists, since it’s a career that has the potential for above-average wages and always has plenty of job opportunities. Different schools have different degrees of difficulty getting in. If a school admits only a small number of students, being accepted is likely to be competitive, and it may be hard to be accepted the first time around.

Preference is sometimes shown to students with a strong science background or who have some experience in a dental setting. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get into a school if you don’t have either.  Applying to several different schools increases the chance of being accepted.

Some schools have prerequisites before you can apply for the dental hygiene program. Taking science-related courses such as anatomy and physiology or microbiology, and proving you were able to do well in them, can help demonstrate that you have the ability to succeed.

How Much Does Dental Hygiene School Cost?

The cost of attending dental hygiene school can vary based on several factors including what type of program you’re considering and your location.  The American Dental Hygienist’s Association reports that the average total cost of tuition and fees of an associate’s degree program is $22,692. If you pursue a bachelor’s degree, the average cost is $36,382.

There may be additional costs to consider. Some examples include room and board, dental instrument rentals or purchases, or transportation costs.

Do Dental Hygienists Need to be Licensed?

Every state requires dental hygienists to obtain a license to practice. Licensure is a way to protect the public from unsafe practices and unqualified practitioners. The requirements for obtaining a license varies from state to state, but most states require candidates to:

  • Graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program
  • Pass the written National Board Dental Hygiene Examination
  • Complete state or regional clinical board examination

States also require dental hygienists to complete continuing education classes to renew their licenses. To find out the requirements for earning or renewing a license in your state, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

Is Dental Hygiene School Harder Than Nursing?

Training programs in dental hygiene and in nursing can both be rigorous programs. The education required for these careers needs to prepare candidates to work in highly specialized healthcare jobs, and both include some classes that students may find challenging.

Since learning to be a nurse involves knowledge and skills that relate to the entire body, it may be harder to master all that’s required to be a nurse than it is to complete dental hygiene school. There are challenging aspects of dental hygiene, where you’ll focus on the head, neck and mouth rather than the whole body.

Earnings and Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists

As the population continues to age and people grow in understanding that good dental care is the key to keeping teeth, there’s a growing demand for dental hygienists. While job prospects may vary by location, overall the job outlook for dental hygienists is very good. According to CareerOneStop, there’s an 11 percent increase in projected employment between 2018 and 2028, much faster than average job growth for all occupations.

A career as a dental hygienist can be lucrative. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for those who work in this field was $76,510 as of May 2019. This represents the wage at which half of dental hygienists earned more than that and half earned less. The amount you earn can be affected by where you live and by how much education and experience you have. Pay ranges between $65,067 and $86,294 per year as of September 2020 according to Salary.com.

Training Programs for Dental Hygienists

There are over 300 accredited training programs to become a dental hygienist, and they can be found all over the country. Some examples include:

  • University of New Haven. The dental hygiene program at this university in West Haven, Connecticut, is ranked among the best in the country. They offer both Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science options in Dental Hygiene. Students in both programs have the opportunity for tutoring by dental hygiene content experts and to gain experience in a variety of real-world settings.
  • Malcolm X College. Located in Chicago, Illinois, this college offers an Associate in Applied Science in dental hygiene which consists of 74 credits.  Graduates are prepared to take national, regional and state licensing exams.
  • Oregon Institute of TechnologyThe dental hygiene Bachelor of Science at this college has built-in opportunities for students to stretch, grow and challenge themselves. The program includes extensive hands-on dental clinic experience on campus along with opportunities for off-campus rotations.

What’s it Like to Work as a Dental Hygienist?

As a dental hygienist, you’ll work closely with the dentist and directly with patients. While specific responsibilities may vary slightly from one setting to another, some of your duties may include:

  • Educating patients on how to brush and floss correctly
  • Examining a patient’s mouth for any abnormalities
  • Removing plaque, stains and tartar from teeth
  • Protecting teeth by applying fluoride and sealants
  • Taking and processing dental images
  • Assisting with dental procedures such as oral surgery

You may assist with other duties such as sterilizing instruments and maintaining patient records. You’ll use a variety of tools on the job, which may include hand tools, power tools and possibly lasers.

Dental hygienists can find opportunities in the offices of dentists and in dental clinics, government clinics and wellness programs. You’ll educate patients about oral health and examine them for signs of oral diseases while providing preventative care. While dental hygiene school may seem difficult at times, remaining committed to your goals can lead to a career that is truly rewarding.