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What is a Dental Hygienist Program Like?

There are a few ways to go about your education when becoming a dental hygienist. The most common methods are for students to get their certificate or associate degree from a vocational school/community college, or to get a bachelor’s degree. Either degrees or certificates are a viable option for students looking to become dental hygienists.

Whichever educational route you pursue, you will be required to become licensed if you want to work as a hygienist. While other requirements can vary by state, most dental hygienist programs will require students to pass a written and clinical exam. Hygienists will also be required to complete continuing education courses.

Learn about the different types of dental hygiene programs that are available, and just how these programs are designed to set students up for a successful, rewarding career ahead.

Getting an Associate Degree/Certificate in Dental Hygiene

Both certificate programs and associate degree programs provide a combination of classroom and hands-on training in clinics.

If you choose to get your associate degree, you will have some prerequisite courses to complete. These courses can range from mathematics, English, science, or related business classes. Receiving your associate degree and completing any necessary hands-on training can have you career-ready in as few as 2-3 years.

Certificate programs can be completed at vocational, technical, or trade schools. Enrolling in a certificate program is preferred by some students since they do not require prerequisite courses; only courses and hands-on training relevant to dental hygiene will be offered. Certificate programs can be completed in as few as 1-2 years.

Be sure that your school or program is a CODA accredited institution. CODA (the Commission on Dental Accreditation) creates and implements the standards necessary to monitor the quality of dental education programs.

Getting a Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygiene

Like associate degrees and certificate programs, earning a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene will also involve classroom learning and hands-on clinical experience. Getting your bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene typically takes 4 years and involves prerequisite courses such as math, related sciences, English, and business.

Although not necessary to become a hygienist, pursuing a bachelor’s degree can make you more marketable when pursuing a future in dental research, teaching, or clinical practice.

Classes in a Dental Hygiene Program

While each dental hygiene program is unique and will vary depending on your school and state requirements, there are common classes you can expect to take.

These classes will involve topics such as:

  • Fundamentals of dental hygiene
  • Fundamentals of dental theory and practice
  • Pathology
  • Oral health research
  • Pharmacology
  • Dental health education and communication
  • Periodontics
  • Dental morphology and occlusion
  • Community dental health
  • Oral Radiology
  • Clinics and hands-on experience with dental patients

Clinical Experience in a Dental Hygiene Program

Your last year as a dental hygiene student is said to go by quickly, with the majority of your time being spent in clinics.

You will likely become familiar with standard appointments/cleanings, along with other, slightly more complex procedures. This can include the administration of local anesthetic, nitrous oxide-oxygen sedation, restorative procedures, root planing, scaling, and more.

As your schedule becomes more demanding, time-management and organization will be key to maintaining a very necessary work-life balance. Remain on top of your studies, but also do your best to prioritize downtime to stay refreshed and motivated.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Upon graduating your program and becoming a licensed dental hygienist, you should have a fulfilling career ahead in patient care.

Learn more about interviewing for a dental hygienist position.

Dental hygienists examine patients for any oral diseases, provide preventative care, and perform general cleanings.

A closer look at the responsibilities of a dental hygienist include:

  • Remove tartar and plaque buildup from teeth
  • Apply sealants and fluoride to protect teeth
  • Educate patients on preventative care – such as proper brushing and flossing regimens
  • Maintain patient dental records
  • Communicate and collaborate with dentists on patient health
  • Administer dental x-rays and help report findings

There are many tools dental hygienists use to complete their job. These include but are not limited to air polishing devices, ultrasonic tools, scalers, mirrors, and dental scrapers. You will get familiar with these tools and the procedures in which they are used throughout your dental hygiene program.

Salary Information and Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that career growth for dental hygienists over the next decade will be strong. By 2032, the BLS estimates that demand for dental hygienists will increase 7 percent, adding an additional 16,400 jobs each year over the next decade.

Dental hygienists can also anticipate a stable income. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that hygienists in 2023 earned an average of $89,890, with the top 10 percent making $118,400 or more.

Start Training to Become a Dental Hygienist Today!

Enrolling in a quality dental hygiene program today can set you up for a rewarding career in the future. If you are passionate about oral health and caring for people, find a dental hygiene program near you!

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