How Much Schooling Do You Need To Be A Dental Hygienist?

The Dental Hygienist career is one of the most satisfying and gratifying careers out there. Not only does it take less time to become a dental hygienist but there are also lots of job opportunities available to dental hygienists. All you may be needing to do is get the right schooling to be a dental hygienist, study the best dental hygienist programs, and kickstart a career that pays a cool salary.

According to Careerswiki, 9 in 10 working-age Americans either currently have or have had at least one cavity in their lives. Meanwhile, the dental hygienist is the first professional you consult to protect you from cavities and tooth decay. So you see, the Dental Hygienist job is a very important one.

Therefore, in this post, we will guide you on how much schooling you need to become a dental hygienist. We will also share with you every other relevant information about the dental hygienist career. This includes the dental hygienist’s salary, job outlook, qualities of a dental hygienist, and how to become a dental hygienist.

Who is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is an oral health professional who teaches proper oral hygiene, and conducts patient assessments, oral inspections, and teeth cleanings. Also, the dental hygienist works under the supervision of a licensed dentist in a dental clinic, hospital, nursing home, and other healthcare facilities.

Furthermore, the dental hygienist is a preventive oral doctor. He looks for signs of oral diseases and then informs patients on how to take care of their teeth to stay happy.

What are the Dental Hygienist Job Roles?

Specifically, the dental hygienist performs the following duties at work on a day-to-day basis:

  • Take dental radiographs or x-rays
  • Review patients’ medical and oral history
  • Remove plaque, calculus, and stains from teeth
  • Assist the dentist with tasks like administering anesthesia and removing sutures during procedures
  • Educate patients on oral health to help them maintain oral health
  • Apply fluorides and sealants to patients’ teeth
  • Perform office management activities
  • Talk to patients about the kind of nutrition that is good for their oral health
  • Document patient care and treatment plans.

Don’t mistake Dental Hygienist for Dental Assistant. Read Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant: 10 Differences You Don’t Know .

Why Should I Become a Dental Hygienist?

You should become a dental hygienist because you have a passion for it. But when this is not the case, you can become a dental hygienist because it takes fewer years of education to become a dental hygienist, especially if you had wanted to become a dentist. With just a two-year Associate degree, you can begin a dental hygienist career.

Furthermore, the career prospect and salary for Dental Hygienists is pretty good. So, you may not find it difficult to get job placements that pay well after completing your dental hygienist education.

What is the Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists?

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, dental hygienist jobs have a growth projection of 11 percent from 2018 to 2028. This growth is much faster than the average for every other occupation. Also, this is because the demand for dental services will increase as the current population ages and researchers continually link oral health to overall health.

Furthermore, BLS projected a total of 219,800 Dental Hygienist jobs in 2018. And the beauty of these jobs is that you do not necessarily need work experience in a related occupation to get them.

What is the Salary of Dental Hygienists?

Also, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, dental hygienists earn up to $74,820 on average annually. If you break this down to the hourly wage, Dental Hygienists earn $35.97 per hour. These figures are pretty good but they could go higher or lower depending on the location and dental clinic/hospital you’re working with.

Meanwhile, according to Glassdoor’s dental hygienist salaries by companies, dental hygienist earns the following at their places of work:

  • Education Affiliates – $82,740
  • Aspen Dental – $65,260
  • Lockton Companies – $74,791
  • Florida Department of Health – $69,333
  • DentalOne Partners – $79,491

If you’re already considering attending a Dental School, see these 25 Dental Schools for International Students

Dental Hygienist Education

So, we’re back to the initial question, “how much schooling do you need to become a dental hygienist?”

You asking this question means that you acknowledge that dental hygienist requires some form of formal education. People don’t just wake up one day and discover that they are dental hygienists.

Thus, the minimum education requirement to become a dental hygienist is an Associate degree. However, this does not restrict you from starting or stopping your education at obtaining an associate’s degree. You can actually enroll in a dental hygienist school for a bachelor’s degree program. Then with time and the need to gain more knowledge in the field, you can pursue a Master’s degree.

In general, you have three (3) formal education options if you want to become a dental hygienist. You’ll have to take:

  • Dental Hygienist Associate’s degree
  • Bachelor’s Degree for Dental Hygienist
  • Dental Hygienist Master’s degree.

These options are more progressive than optional. That is to say that you can advance from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree, and from a bachelor’s to a master’s. It is illogical to start with a Master’s degree (without any prior educational background) to begin your dental hygienist career. However, the entry job position for a dental hygienist requires either an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree.

Acquiring any of these entry-level degrees qualifies you to get your license to practice.

We would proceed to show you the educational requirements for each of the educational options, but first, let’s talk about Accreditation.

Accreditation & Dental Hygienist Program Scope

We always encourage students to attend schools and colleges with accreditation. This is because such schools guarantee you quality education and a degree that meets global standards.

Many schools today have regional or national accreditation backing up their programs but some specialized programs need industry-specific accreditation by relevant accreditation authorities to further back them up.

Dental Hygienist, like other health programs, is one such program. In addition to institutional accreditation, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) must approve the dental hygienist program in the school you have chosen.

If your Dental Hygienist degree does not have accreditation by CODA, you will not be able to acquire a license and practice as a professional hygienist.

Moving on, CODA requires all accredited Dental Hygienist programs to cover four (4) key content areas. These are:

  • General Education – Oral and Written Communication, Psychology, and Sociology
  • Biomedical Science – Chemistry, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Anatomy, Immunology, Nutrition, etc.
  • Dental Science – Oral Embryology and Histology, Tooth Morphology, Radiology, Oral Pathology, Pain Management, etc.
  • Dental Hygiene Science – Oral Health Education and Preventative Counseling, Patient Management, Community Oral Health, Infection and Hazard Control, Clinical Dental Hygiene, Legal and Ethical Principles of Dental Hygiene Practice, etc.

Be it an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s degree, your dental hygienist program must cover these areas. It may differ in degree, however, depending on the level of the degree program.

Dental Hygienist Associate’s Degree

Dental Hygienist Associate’s degree programs are the minimum education requirement for dental hygienists. It is usually a two-to-three years program that prepares you for licensing. You can get this kind of education at community colleges or technical schools.

This Dental Hygienist program includes coursework and clinical experience. Right from the first year, you will begin providing clinical services.

You will get between eight (8) and twelve (12) hours of hands-on practice each week in the first year. This will increase to between twelve (12) and sixteen (16) hours in the second year.

What are the Admission Requirements for a Dental Hygienist Associate Degree Program?

The admission requirements for a dental hygienist associate’s degree depend largely on the school. However, most schools will require you to have a GPA of 2.5 or higher after completing prerequisites that treated courses in subjects like Anatomy, BiologyChemistry, and Sociology.

Additionally, some schools will require you to have a CPR certification either before granting you admission or starting your clinical practice.

Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygienist

A Bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygienist is not really a compulsory degree to get to become a dental hygienist. It is even an uncommon degree among Dental Hygienists, and it takes four (4) years to complete.

However, students take it to better their chances of employment as well as gain advanced techniques and care plans for specific segments of the population, like children.

Aside from this, the Dental Hygienist Bachelor’s Degree is not much different from an Associate’s Degree. They both qualify you to acquire a license to practice.

What are the Admission Requirements for a Dental Hygienist Bachelor’s Degree Program?

Check out this Bachelor of Dental Health Science Scholarships at Griffith University, Australia.

Just like the Associate’s program, you should have a GPA of 2.5 or higher and have completed prerequisite courses.

However, if you’ll be entering this program after completing high school, you should have taken courses that prepare you to enroll for an associate’s degree program.

On the other hand, if you’re entering the Dental Hygienist Bachelor’s Degree program after completing an Associate’s degree, you must have knowledge of anatomy, radiology, and dental materials.

Dental Hygienist Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in Dental Hygienist is for professionals who wish to teach, conduct research, or work at an administrative level. According to the American Dental Hygienist Association, there are 21 accredited dental hygienist master’s programs existing in 15 states.

Nonetheless, this is a less common program when compared to the associate’s and bachelor’s Dental Hygienist programs. Also, like other Master’s degrees in other fields of study, the Dental Hygienist Master’s degree takes one (1) year to complete.

Furthermore, the Master’s program qualifies Dental Hygienists for higher-level roles such as community program directors, and oral disease prevention specialists.

What are the Admission Requirements for a Dental Hygienist Bachelor’s Degree Program?

The admission requirements for the Dental Hygienist Master’s program include a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene or a related field.

You will also need to have obtained a GPA of 3.0 or higher and proof of a current dental hygienist license. Also, you’ll need letters of recommendation, a Career statement or current resume, and good GRE scores.

Online Dental Hygiene Programs

It has gotten even easier to acquire a Dental Hygiene degree with the availability of online programs. Many schools have begun offering dental hygienist programs at the Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Levels.

However, because Dental Hygienists’ education is more practical than theoretical, these online programs are not 100% online programs. You will have to complete some lab and practical requirements on-campus or through internships.

These experiences are an important aspect of online training as employers lookout for professional experience when hiring. Therefore, take your time to sieve through online schools for the ones offering Dental Hygiene Programs with the avenue for hands-on clinical and or internship experience.

How to Get Your Dental Hygienist License

The Dental Hygienist License is very important to every dental hygienist. Before you practice your profession in any state in the USA, you must have a license from that state.

So how do you go about this?

First, you will complete either a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year Dental Hygienist degree. Next, you will need to sit for the National Board of Dental Hygienist Examination (NBDHE) and pass it.

So what’s this exam like?

The Exam consists of 350 multiple-choice questions grouped into two parts. These are the discipline-based set of questions and the case-based set of questions. You will be scored by the exam body for both on a 49-99 scale, with 75 as the minimum passing score.

Furthermore, each state has its own clinical-based exam. This tests your knowledge of basic hygiene procedures, anesthesia, and restorative techniques. Also, you will likely take a drug and law exam to confirm that you know the rules and regulations that are specific to your state.

After passing all these exams, you’ll gain your license to practice as a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH).

How do I Renew My Dental Hygiene License?

All states in the USA require Dental Hygienists to periodically renew their license. And to renew your license, you will have to pay the necessary fees as well as provide proof that you’ve completed the required number of continuing education hours stipulated by your state.

These continuing education study hours are somewhere between 10-20 hours for every one-year cycle, 30-50 hours for two-year cycles, and 60 hours for three-year cycles. Also, these classes will cover study areas recommended by each state, although most state demands classes in CPR and Infection control.

When is My License Due for Renewal?

You should renew your license every one-to-three years. So you can choose to renew it annually, every two years, or every three years.

How do I find Continuing Education Courses?

There’s no need to stress yourself much looking for continuing education programs. The American Dental Association (ADA) offers countless ways for you to continue your education as a Dental Hygienist. Just search through the ADA database of live and online courses covering a variety of topics that are beneficial to you.

How To Become a Dental Hygienist

After all that we’ve said, you may be standing at a crossroads right now wondering just what kind of schooling you need to become a dental hygienist – associate’s, bachelors, or master’s?

Well, here we want to give you the easiest way to become a dental hygienist. Of course, it will cover the kind of schooling we feel is the easiest and lots more.

Step by Step guide on how to become a dental hygienist

  1. Complete an Associate’s Program

    Yes, that’s right! A Bachelor’s is good, but an Associate’s is faster. You’ll readily find an associate’s program for dental hygienists in a community college, technical college, dental school, or even universities. You will even find some good schools online, and the program will take you a maximum time of three years (plus clinical practice). But normally, it lasts for two years.

  2. Obtain a License

    After your associate’s program, sit for the dental hygienist licensing exam. Ensure to pass this NBDHE exam and pay the necessary fees.

  3. Search for a Job

    The first place to direct your search in dental clinics. They are the highest employers of dental hygienists. You can direct your search to hospitals too. Meanwhile, you will be at an advantage if you have some professional experience. Maybe through college practical hours or an internship.

  4. Consider Career Advancement

    It usually doesn’t end with getting a job. Yes, after getting a job, you have become a dental hygienist. But what about taking a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree? These will further help you advance in the field and position you to work in bigger places including research institutes and public health programs.

What are the Qualities of a Dental Hygienist?

Of course, education does not make the entirety of a person. That is why when Ivy League Medical Schools like Harvard Medical School select med students, they look for the individual’s exceptional qualities.

So, to succeed or be employable as a dental hygienist, you must possess the following Important qualities:

  • Critical Thinking – You need this to be able to assess and evaluate your patients
  • Detail Oriented – To work effectively with the dentist, you must be able to pay attention to the minutest of details, and follow specific rules, and protocols.
  • Communication Skills – You will be doing a lot of talking to educate your clients on oral hygiene and other counseling, as well as communicating with the dentist. So, you really need this skill.
  • Problem-solving Skills – You’ll be helping your patients to develop and implement oral hygiene care plans. You have to be able to be skillful enough to do these.
  • Dexterity – You must be skilled at working with your hands. Being that you will work in tight quarters on a small part of the human body – teeth.
  • Interpersonal Skills – You have to be able to relate well with patients who are in pain and are afraid to undergo dental treatment. You should also be able to understand and be friendly with the dentist.

Cost should not be the reason why you are giving up on your dental professional. Attend any of these Top 10 Cheapest Dental Schools In The World

Dental Hygienist Work Environment

According to CollegeGrad, 94% of dental hygienists work in the office of dentists, 1% work in the offices of physicians, and 1% in Government Offices.

However, in whichever environment you find yourself working in as a dental hygienist, you will have to put on safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves. The profession requires these to protect you and your patients from infectious diseases.

Also, when you are taking x-rays, ensure to follow strict procedures to protect yourself and your patient from radiation.

Some people have wondered if Dental Hygienists are any different from Dentists or even Dental Assistants. Well, yes, these are three different careers entirely that require different education.

However, there are related careers and there are other careers related to Dental Hygienists. These careers are:

  • Dental Assistants – This career is the most related to Dental Hygienists. However, the task of a dental assistant differs from that of a hygienist, and these tasks range from providing patient care to recording and scheduling appointments.
  • Dentists – The Dentist is the main Oral Doctor. He diagnoses and treats the teeth, gum, and related mouth problems of the patient.
  • Medical Assistant – These are medical staff that takes care of the clinical and administrative tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other health facilities.
  • Physician Assistants – These professionals work in a team of physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients but are not the main Physician.
  • Radiation Therapists – Treat cancer and other diseases through radiation treatments.
  • Registered Nurses – These are health professionals that provide care for the patient, educate them about various health conditions, and provide emotional support to both patients and their family members.

Switching from Dental Hygienist to Dentist

Sometimes students decide to become Dental Hygienists because they couldn’t become dentists. If you are such a student, after several years in the field as a dental hygienist, you may decide to switch back to dentistry.

So how do you go about that?

To become a dentist as a practicing dental hygienist, you have to enroll in a four-year doctoral program for a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). The requirement for these programs in most schools are:

  • Complete prerequisites in biology, chemistry, physics, and English; and
  • Take the Dental Admission Test.

You can apply for a degree-completion program to earn a bachelor’s if you don’t already have one. This lasts anywhere from 15 to 18 months. However, some dental schools offer doctoral programs that permit you to earn your bachelor’s while working toward your doctorate. These programs take six (6) years to complete which is shorter than the eight (8) years it will take to complete both programs separately.

After completing the DMD or DDS program, you can then sit for the written and clinical exams for dentists in your state to gain a license to practice as an independent dentist.

After a successful switch from Dental Hygienist to dentistry, you’ll need this Sarasota Dentistry Dental Scholarship Program.


The cost of becoming a dental hygienist depends on the kind of dental hygienist education you want to get. According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, it takes an average In-State tuition fee of $22,692 for a Dental Hygienist Associate degree, $36,382 for a Bachelor’s, and $30,421 for a Master’s degree.

Since you can become a Dental Hygienist by completing an Associate Degree in the discipline, it takes two to three years to become a dental hygienist. However, for growth in the field, you’ll need to further enroll for a Bachelor’s degree and Dental Hygienist Master’s degree.

To become a dental hygienist, acquire a Dental Hygienist Associate’s degree, obtain a license, find a job, and then consider career advancement through a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.

Dental hygienists earn a decent wage. According to BLS, their estimated average yearly wage is $74,070 or $35.61 per hour. However, depending on the company the Dental Hygienist is working for, their pay may be higher or lower than the BLS estimate. Glassdoor estimates that dental Hygienists working at Education Affiliates earn an average annual wage of $82,740.

Comparing the BLS estimated annual wage for Registered Nurses and that of Dental Hygienists, Dental Hygienists earn more than Registered nurses. According to BLS 2018 statistics, Registered nurses earn an average wage of $71,730 annually. On the other hand, Dental Hygienists earn $74,070 annually.

US News & World Report’s Review of the Dental Hygienist job pins the job’s stress level as an average based on the work environment and complexities of the job’s responsibilities.

Yes, Dental Hygienists are in high demand going by BLS’s job outlook for Dental Hygienists. The Dental Hygienist job has a growth of 11 percent from 2018-2028, which is faster than the average for other occupations.

Yes, recent laws in states like Oregon, Colorado, and Nevada allows Dental Hygienists to open their own practice. Your license will need to have an Expanded Practice Permit (EPP), however, for this to be possible. And this permit allows Dental Hygienists to perform hygiene services without the supervision of a dentist in settings such as nursing homes, public and non-profit community health clinics, homes of adults who are non-mobile, hospitals, and other locations.

Yes, you can become a Dental Hygienist after completing your Dental Hygienist Degree program online. Several universities offer online dental hygienists associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees online. However, you will need some hands-on clinical and laboratory experience which you can acquire either on-campus or through internship places.

Any dental hygienist program must incorporate general education, biomedical sciences, dental sciences, and dental hygiene science in their dental hygienist classes. Meanwhile, as the requirement to enroll in a dental hygienist school, you must take high school classes in biology, chemistry, and communication. Also, most dental hygienist schools require that you complete prerequisites that include courses in Anatomy, Biology, Chemistry, and Sociology.

The Dental Hygienist job is a flexible one. You can work part-time or full-time. Many dentists only hire hygienists for a few days a week so many dental hygienists work for more than one doctor. According to DentistryIQ, nationally, just 47% of dental hygienists work 30 to 40 hours a week.


The answer to how much schooling you need to be a dental hygienist depends on the line of schooling you choose. You can become a dental hygienist after completing a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene.

However, for professional and Career advancement, you may need to consider a Master’s degree. Meanwhile, on how to become a dental hygienist, just get an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, get a license to practice, find a job, and then consider career advancement.


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