Dental Hygienist

Dental hygiene is considered to be one of the top best health care support jobs, both financially and emotionally rewarding. Dental hygiene is listed in the top 100 jobs, according to the US News; and Forbes included dental hygiene in its list entitled, “The Best Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree”. Dental hygienists work alongside dentists to care for patients oral health. Because of the low-stress dental hygienists experience at the workplace, hygienists have a fulfilling career, and many stay in their jobs into their 60’s. Learn more about the rapidly growing and expanding the field of dental hygiene. 

What Do Dental Hygienists Do?

Dental hygienists are the ones who prep their patient’s mouth for the dentist. They are the people who clean the teeth, examine the mouth for signs of any concerning oral conditions such as gum disease or oral cancers. They also will document the visit and educate the patient on how to take better care of and explain preventative measures of their mouths, teeth, and gums. Dental hygienists may take mouth x-rays, and apply tooth sealants and protectants. Tools hygienists use to clean teeth and gums are usually manual, powered, or ultrasonic, and they may use lasers, as well.  

Some dentist offices will have their Registered Dental Hygienists administer local anesthesia and nitrous oxide, place fillings, remove sutures, polish restorations, and do some minor periodontal procedures such as root planing.

Dental hygienists perform their duties in a variety of settings beyond dentist offices. They may be employed in community health centers, nursing homes, prisons, schools and colleges, and state and federal government facilities.

5 Qualities of a Great Dental Hygienist

“As you are inspired to deliver the highest quality patient care, and as others in the office are additionally energized and involved in this process of care, it truly creates an atmosphere of success for everyone.”-Patty Jordan, quote from ‘Helping Hands for Dental Hygienists’

  • Strong Communication Skills: As a dental hygienist, you’re working closely with both the doctor and the patient. So, it’s important that you’re able to clearly and effectively communicate important details.
  • Attention to Details: An excellent dental hygienist needs to be able to catch even the most minute detail within the confines of the patient’s mouth.
  • Better-than-decent Dexterity: Your hands are dangling in the mouths of patients so they need to be super steady because one slip and you can severely hurt them. Shaky hands equal scared sufferer.
  • Passionate about their position: You need to love all things oral health because you are the one who informs and educates your patients on best practices. Also, patients love hygienists who are enthusiastic and outgoing; it makes for a better visit because not too many people love visiting their dentist.
  • Superior Stamina: As a dental hygienist, you’re moving around a lot. You’re constantly switching from sitting to standing which, while good exercise (think squats!), can be exhausting.

How To Become A Dental Hygienist

Most dental hygienists start out in a community college or trade school in the dental hygiene program. Typically, an Associate’s in Applied Science in Dental Hygiene is the most common path and the one most preferred by potential employers. Most dental hygiene programs require one year of college curriculum before entering the program with a grade point average of 2.5 or higher. Programs will take anywhere from two to four years, depending on whether you’re going for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. All programs are similar, whether you’re going for an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Both have general ed classes, as well as those that pertain directly to dental hygiene. However, when going for a bachelor’s degree, the courses go more in-depth, allowing the student a deeper knowledge of the field. While the bachelor’s degree option is perfect for those who plan on teaching, going into the research aspect of dental hygiene, or work in a clinical setting for schools or public health programs, an associate’s degree plus the certification is all that’s necessary to be employable.

In the associate’s degree program for dental hygiene, there are 24 credits of general education and 50 credits of core courses required, along with 8 elective credits. Bachelor’s degrees have a higher course credit requirement. 45 general elective credits, 68 core class credits, and 6 elective credits.

Dental hygiene coursework will include both classroom and practical, or hands-on, learning. Most programs include anatomy and physiology, microbiology and immunology, intro to dental hygiene, dental anatomy, periodontics, head and neck anatomy, and radiology in their curriculum. 


Dental Hygiene Certificate Program  1 year - 2 years

  • Fundamentals of Dental Hygiene
  • Fundamentals of Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice
  • Clinical Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice
  • Pathology
  • Introduction to Oral Health Research
  • Pharmacology
  • Dental Health Education and Communication
  • Current Issues in Dental Hygiene
  • Periodontics
  • Dental Materials
  • Dental Morphology and Occlusion
  • Community Dental Health
  • Community Dental Health Lab
  • Independent Study
  • Clinical Practice in Alternative Settings
  • Medical Evaluation of Dental Hygiene Patients
  • Oral Radiology
  • Directed Studies in Clinical Dental Hygiene

Dental Hygiene Associate's Degree Programs 2 years

General Education Requirements (24 credits)

Core Courses (50 credits)

Elective Courses (8 credits)

Composition 1

Dental Hygiene 1

Human Relations

Composition 2

Principles of Dental Hygiene

General Psychology

Word Processing

Dental Histology and Embryology

 

Introduction to Database Applications

Oral Anatomy

 

Technology and Society

Head and Neck Anatomy

 

College Mathematics 1: Reasoning and Application

Periodontics

 

Oral Communication

Dental Materials

 

Workplace Communication

Dental Health Education

 
 

Pharmacology for the Dental Hygienist

 
 

Community Dentistry

 
 

Radiographic Interpretation

 
 

Dental Law and Ethics

 
 

Human Anatomy and Physiology

 
 

Concepts in Microbiology

 
 

Chemistry

 

 

Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene Degree Program 4 years


General Education Requirements (45 credits)

Core Courses (68 credits)

Elective Courses (6 credits)

Elementary Microbiology

Oral Anatomy and Embryology

Contemporary issues in Health Care

Capstone Seminar

Radiology

Health Information Systems

Social Science

Pharmacology for the Dental Hygienist

Healthcare Risk Management

Fine Arts

Introduction to Periodontology

Concepts of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention

Composition & Rhetoric

Clinical Practice

Legal Aspects of Health Care

Humanities

Local Anesthesia

Issues in Mental Health

Intermediate Algebra

General and Oral Histo-Pathology

Vulnerable Populations: Health and Health Care Issues

Principles of Sociology

Dental Public Health

Sales, Negotiation and Customer Relationship Management

Introduction to Counseling

Periodontology

Grant Administration & Resource Development

Principles of Marketing

Dental Hygiene Practice Management

Substance Abuse and the Family

 

Dental Materials

Social Problems of Policy

 

Instructional Strategies for the Health Professional

 
 

Dental Hygiene Internship

 
 

Advanced Clinical Concepts

 
 

Dental Hygiene Research

 
 

Nutritional Biochemistry

 
 

Statistical Reasoning

 

How Much Does Dental Hygiene School Cost?

One thing to be aware of when looking for a dental hygiene program is that if it is not accredited, there are no available government funds for financial aid. To receive any financial aid, the program you’re considering MUST be approved by the Commission of Dental Accreditation. For full financial aid information, please refer to this article. Also, be sure to discuss your options with the financial aid office of whichever program you choose to attend.

Each program, whether you choose to attend a community college or a university, will typically not include the cost of the uniforms, lab coats, shoes, tools of the trade, professional association fees, computer lab fees, malpractice insurance, textbooks, and room and board if necessary.  Certification fees, across the board, are $410, so you’ll need to add that to the cost of schooling.

Average Tuition Cost

Certificate

Associate’s Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

2 years

2 years

4 years

$5,500 - $10,800

$15,700 - $54,920

$29,950 - $80,050

Depending on the school and its location, it could be on the higher or lower end of the cost. Prices are also different if you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. Out-of-state tuition is generally much higher.

What Are the Licensing Requirements for Dental Hygienists?

Each state has different licensing requirements for dental hygienists. One thing is certain across the land, to practice as a dental hygienist, you must be certified. To be eligible for certification, you must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program. There are a large number of Commission of Dental Accreditation (CODA) certified programs throughout the United States.

  • Fees
    $75
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    October 1 each year
  • Special Requirements
    CPR 2 hours infectious disease control.
    Max 12 hours restorative study.
  • Website:
    AL Dental Practice Act
  • Fees
    $150
    $60 anesthesia license
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    February 28 of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 4 hours
  • Website:
    AK Statutes & Regulations
  • Fees
    $300
  • Cycle length
    3 years
  • License Renewal
    June 30
  • Special Requirements
    CPR 2 hours infectious disease control
  • Website:
    AZ Board Rules
  • Fees
    $100
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    Jan 1 of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR 1 hour infection control
  • Website:
    AR Dental Practice Act
  • Fees
    $160
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    Last day of the month of birth
  • Special Requirements
    CPR/BLS max 4 hours
  • Website:
    CA Dental Practice Act
  • Fees
    $160
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    Last day of the month of birth
  • Fees
    $105
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    First birth month following issuance of license yearly
  • Special Requirements
    CT Practice Act
  • Fees
    $66
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    May 31 of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR 2 hours infection control
  • Website:
    DE rules and regulations
  • Fees
    $66
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    February of even years
  • Special Requirements
    2 hours domestic violence of every third biennium
  • Website:
    FL Rules
  • Fees
    $85
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 4 hours
  • Website:
    GA Dental Practice Act
  • Fees
    $110
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    BLA / CPR max 4 hours
  • Website:
    HI Admin Rules
  • Fees
    $175
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    March 31 of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Fees
    $150
  • Cycle length
    3 years
  • License Renewal
    August of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    IL Admin Code
  • Fees
    $70
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    March 1st of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 2 hours
  • Website:
    IN Admin Code
  • Fees
    $150
    $25 for anesthesia license
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    August 31 of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 3 hours.
    Abuse identification and reporting every 5 years
  • Website:
    IA code
  • Fees
    $75
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December 31 of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR 2 hours.
    HIV/AIDS course every 10 years
    Medical emergency training minimum of 3 hours
  • Website:
    KY Statutes & Regulations
  • Fees
    $220
    $50 each for local anesthesia and nitrous oxide inhalation analgesia
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December every year
  • Special Requirements
    CPR required for general supervision
  • Website:
    LA Dental Practice Act
  • Fees
    $175
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    January 1 odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 3 hours
  • Website:
    ME Dental Practice Act
  • Fees
    $182
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    Between May 1 and June 30. For licenses ending on odd numbers, renew on odd years. For licenses ending in even numbers renew on even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR Infection control up to 2 hours
    Abuse and neglect up to 2 hours
  • Website:
    MD Dental Regulations
  • Fees
    $60
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    March 31 of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR for anesthesia
  • Website:
    MA Rules & Regulations
  • Fees
    $75
  • Cycle length
    3 years
  • License Renewal
    August 31
  • Special Requirements
    CPR for 12 hours. Must be clinical.
    Required 1 hour in pain management
  • Website:
    MI Admin Code
  • Fees
    $150
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    Bi annually. End of birth month in even or odd year
  • Special Requirements
    CPR towards CE.
  • Website:
    MN Statutes
  • Fees
    $100
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    October 31
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 4 hours.
    CPR advanced up to 8 hours.
  • Website:
    MS Laws & Regulations
  • Fees
    $60
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    November of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    MO Admin Rules
  • Fees
    $140
  • Cycle length
    3 years
  • License Renewal
    March yearly
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    MT Admin Rules
  • Fees
    $110
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    March of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    Max 5 hours of dental public health
  • Website:
    NE Reg & Statutes
  • Fees
    $300
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    June of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR 
  • Website:
    NV Admin Code
  • Fees
    $160
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    Last day of the month of birth
  • Special Requirements
    CPR/BLS max 4 hours
  • Website:
    NH Admin Rules
  • Fees
    $120
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December of every odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    NJ Rules & Regs
  • Fees
    $325
  • Cycle length
    3 years
  • License Renewal
    June 30
  • Special Requirements
    CPR/BLS
  • Website:
    NM Admin Code
  • Fees
    $88
  • Cycle length
    3 years
  • Special Requirements
    Infection Control
    Child abuse training
  • Website:
    NY Rules & Regs
  • Fees
    $106
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    January every year
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    NC Rules & Laws
  • Fees
    $150
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 2 hours of infection control
    2 hours of ethics or jurisprudence
  • Website:
    ND Admin Code
  • Fees
    $115
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR / BLA
  • Fees
    $75
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    December 31
  • Special Requirements
    CPR every 3 years.
    Ethics course every 3 years
  • Website:
    OK Rules
  • Fees
    $155
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    September 30
  • Special Requirements
    Medical emergencies 3 hours.
    Successful completion of the National Board.
    Dental Hygiene Examination taken after initial licensure
  • Website:
    OR Admin Rules
  • Fees
    $42
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    March of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR max of 3 hours on communication skills
  • Website:
    PA Rules & Regs
  • Fees
    $65
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    April of even years
  • Special Requirements
    OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standards
  • Website:
    RI Regulations
  • Fees
    $80
    $10 for infiltration anesthesia certification
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    SC Laws & Policies
  • Fees
    $95
  • Cycle length
    5 years
  • License Renewal
    June 31
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 15 hours every 5 years
    Dental radiography max of 20 hours every 5 years
  • Website:
    SD State Board of Dentistry
  • Fees
    $110
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    Last day of the month of the licensee’s birthday
  • Special Requirements
    CPR 2 hours of chemical dependency
  • Website:
    TN Rules & Regs
  • Fees
    $106
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    Yearly
  • Special Requirements
    CPR every 3 years
  • Website:
    TX Rules & Laws
  • Fees
    $37
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    May of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    UT Laws
  • Fees
    $125
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    September of odd years
  • Website:
    VT Rules
  • Fees
    $75
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    March
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    VA Rules
  • Fees
    $50
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    Birth date
  • Special Requirements
    CPR/BLA
  • Website:
    WA Admin Code
  • Fees
    $136
    $25 local anesthesia
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    December 31 of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    DC Regulations
  • Fees
    $75
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    February of even years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
    Infection control or tobacco or substance abuse up to 2 hours
  • Website:
    WV Laws & Rules
  • Fees
    $123
  • Cycle length
    2 years
  • License Renewal
    October of odd years
  • Special Requirements
    CPR up to 2 hours
    Minimum of 2 hours of infection control
  • Website:
    WI Admin Code
  • Fees
    $95
  • Cycle length
    1 year
  • License Renewal
    December 31 yearly
  • Special Requirements
    CPR
  • Website:
    WY Rules and Regs

After you’ve completed the dental hygiene program, you must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination given by the American Dental Association. The test has 350 multiple choice questions, and you must get a minimum score of 70% to pass. You will also be required to complete a clinical board exam on either the state or regional level.

Process for becoming a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH)

  1. Graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program

     2.   Complete and pass written portion of National Board Dental Hygiene Exam

     3.   Complete state or regional portion of exam


Career Options for Dental Hygienists

“We’re your dental defenders.”-Dental Hygienist Saying

Being a dental hygienist doesn’t mean you’ll be forever working inside the mouths of patients. There are quite a few different career options once you’re a Registered Dental Hygienist.

Corporate: Corporate Dental Hygienists are usually hired in by corporations or companies that are involved in the health and wellness industry. Dental hygienists are employable in these settings because of their grasp of the knowledge involved in the dental industry.  

Public Health: Public health programs are typically funded by the government. Dental hygienists who work in the public health field are usually providing care to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. Examples of public health opportunities are Indian Reservation Health Services, health departments, Head Start Programs, and State Public Health Officer.

Researcher: For a research position, Dental Hygienists need to have a Bachelor’s Degree. In the research industry the hygienist would be tasked with giving out surveys and formulating the results, which is considered quantitative research. Qualitative research would include the testing of new products or procedures for accuracy and effectiveness.

Educator: Dental Hygiene educators are in great demand. They are needed in colleges and universities throughout the United States. Corporations also hire Dental Hygienists to provide continuing education to other Registered Dental Hygienists. Median annual salary is $49,931 for Dental Hygiene Educators.

Administrator: Organizational skills, community objectives, managing resources, evaluating and modifying programs already in place are all part of what dental hygienists who go into administration do. Public Health Administrators earn $62,246 annually, on average.

Pediatric and Periodontal Dental Hygienists both earn an annual salary of $72,330. Both are rewarding specialities, as well.

So, if you can envision enjoying a high-paying, stable, and rewarding career without having to spend years in school, then dental hygiene is the right choice for you!

 

Career Outlook and Salary For Dental Hygienists

“Dental Hygienists are boss of the floss” -Unknown

Dental hygiene is one of the fastest growing careers. Employment is expected to advance 19% through 2024 which is far greater than most other occupations. Dental hygienists graduating from dental hygiene programs are also increasing which will make this particular field highly competitive, with the most competition concentrated in full-time positions. Driving the employment growth for dental hygienists is the change in the healthcare. With more Americans having health insurance than ever before means more visits to the dentist, which, in turn, increases the number of hygienists dentists will be hiring.  

Dental hygiene is one of the highest paying vocational careers. Benefits and pay vary by employer, however, the median annual wage, or the national average, for dental hygienists is $72,330. The lower 10% earn $50,140 while the highest 10% will make $98,440 per year.

Dental hygienists have varying pay structures, depending on where they are employed. Some have a base salary, some are paid hourly. However, there are also dental hygienists who are paid straight commission, or a base plus commission, both of which are used as production incentives by the hiring office. The more the hygienists work, the better they are paid. Commission-based dental hygienist jobs can end up being higher paying than their base salary counterparts.

 

Top Paying Industries for Dental Hygienists

Industry

Annual Salary

Dentist Office

$73,050

Ambulatory Health Care

$71,570

Outpatient Centers

$70,370

Employment Services

$68,800

Physician’s Office

$68,300

 

Top Paying States for Dental Hygienists

State

Annual Salary

Washington D.C

$98,530

California

$93,970

New Mexico

$89,290

Nevada

$89,190

Washington

$88,870








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