Dental Hygiene

A dental hygienist (DH) is a core member of the oral health workforce, working to prevent oral disease and promote healthy dental habits among individuals and communities. Recognizing that most dental disease is entirely preventable, dental hygienists focus on prophylactic dental care with the aim of preventing oral disease by identifying and treating problems as early as possible.

Hygienists provide the key dental care services of cleaning, sealing, and fluoride delivery. They also screen for diseases such as mouth cancer and perform restorations like fillings and implants in some jurisdictions. Most dental hygienists are college-educated professionals working in private clinical practice settings. All states license hygienists. In some states, practitioners are relatively independent; in others, they work under close supervision. Requirements for licensure and the scope of practice vary by state.

The average entry-level dental hygiene education program is about three academic years long, according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association. Programs should be accredited by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

Degrees in Dental Hygiene

Associate Degrees

Almost 80 percent of dental hygienists have an associate's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The associate's degree is the prevailing educational qualification for entry-level hygienist positions, although a few students get their introductory education from certificate-granting dental hygienist schools or even on-the-job training.

Associate degrees complement studies in the basic sciences with a focus on topics like nutrition, public health, clinical hygiene, human anatomy, and periodontics. Students become versed in the provision of hygienic care for patients of all ages and learn how to control the spread of infection.

Dental hygiene programs also provide a survey introduction to health education and advocacy. Internalizing the ethical principles that guide practice among dental hygienists, students learn how to take action on behalf of individual patients and the community as a whole.

The best dental hygiene schools offer a supervised experience component that lets students work with real patients in a clinical setting. All programs should prepare students for the Dental Hygiene National Board Examination and state tests leading to licensure as a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH).

Associate-level courses in Dental Hygiene might include, for example:

  • Introduction to Dental Hygiene Practice
  • Prevention & Management of Medical Emergencies
  • Periodontics I & II

Bachelor Degrees

Dental hygienists earn a bachelor's degree to gain access to greater career flexibility and, in some cases, pay and benefits. About one-fifth of dental hygienists have a degree from a 4-year bachelor's program, according to the U.S. BLS. Bachelor degree-holders are qualified to go on to graduate-level study, though it is not required.

The bachelor's degree need not be in dental hygiene for students to benefit. Related majors include sciences like biology or a biomedical area such as public health or health care administration. Some tracks provide an embedded DH education; others target working hygienists who want a B.S. to enhance their career prospects.

For employment in private dental offices, a bachelor's does not confer a significant advantage over an associate's degree. The bachelor's best use is beyond the clinic in education or outreach. Many positions with the government or the military strongly prefer job applicants with a bachelor's degree.

Undergraduate classes in Dental Hygiene may include:

  • Chemistry for Allied Health
  • Anatomy & Physiology I & II
  • Oral Health Education

A dental hygienist with a bachelor's degree can find work as a:

  • Indian Health Service (IHS) Dental Hygienist
  • Head Start Dental Hygienist
  • Veterans Administration (VA) Dental Hygienist

Master Degrees

A small number of dental hygienists have a master's degree—just 1 percent, according to the BLS. Schools have begun to offer the Master of Science in Dental Hygiene (M.S.D.H.) or Master of Dental Hygiene (M.D.H.) to aspiring teachers, researchers, or administrators of education, public and community healthcare programs.

This advanced post-professional degree is geared toward licensed working hygienists with bachelor degrees who want to maximize their earnings potential. Institutionally, the master's is designed to address a national shortage of dental hygiene faculty.

Master's students at this level engage in case-based learning and research, as well as hands-on fieldwork. Scholars dive into clinical research, public health data, behavioral and social science, and health care policy, building problem-solving skills to promote oral health through education and intervention.

To get into a master's DH program, most students will need basic dental hygiene training and a bachelor's degree in any subject under their belt. Some need a current RDH license, too. A qualifying exam or research proposal may be required for matriculation. For graduation, a capstone research presentation or fieldwork project may be in order.

A small number of hygienists who get a master's degree go on to a research Ph.D. program to advance the science of dental hygiene. Such researchers can be found in settings such as the National Institute of Dental Research.

Graduate coursework in Dental Hygiene includes subjects like:

  • Dental Hygiene Curriculum Development & Instructional Methods
  • Oral Disease Prevention & Management by Risk Assessment
  • Leadership in Dental Hygiene

What can you be with a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene?

  • Professor of Dental Hygiene
  • Dental Hygiene Products Sales Representative
  • Dental Hygiene Community Health Program Director

Featured Schools

Programs offered:

We found 268 schools offering dental hygienist degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 268 Dental Hygiene Colleges in the U.S.

Dental Hygienist Schools By Total Enrollment

Ohio State University - Main Campus
Columbus, OH  |  Total Enrollment: 47952

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Miami Dade College
Miami, FL  |  Total Enrollment: 46834

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Minneapolis, MN  |  Total Enrollment: 45481

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, MI  |  Total Enrollment: 38103

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
New York University
New York, NY  |  Total Enrollment: 37150

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
Northern Virginia Community College
Annandale, VA  |  Total Enrollment: 37073

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
University of Washington - Seattle Campus
Seattle, WA  |  Total Enrollment: 36139

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
Community College of Southern Nevada
North Las Vegas, NV  |  Total Enrollment: 29905

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 29194

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
Pima Community College
Tucson, AZ  |  Total Enrollment: 28078

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's

Browse All 268 Colleges With Dental Hygienist Programs

Title City State Enrollment
University of Alaska Anchorage Anchorage AK 14794
George C Wallace State Community College - Hanceville Hanceville AL 4696
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Little Rock AR 1855
Northern Arizona University Flagstaff AZ 19964
Phoenix College Phoenix AZ 12386
Pima Community College Tucson AZ 28078
Rio Salado College Tempe AZ 11275
Cabrillo College Aptos CA 12807
Cerritos College Norwalk CA 24536
Chabot College Hayward CA 13615
Cypress College Cypress CA 21361
Diablo Valley College Pleasant Hill CA 21581
El Camino College Torrance CA 24067
Foothill College Los Altos Hills CA 14193
Fresno City College Fresno CA 19351
Loma Linda University Loma Linda CA 3153
Oxnard College Oxnard CA 7105
Pasadena City College Pasadena CA 22948
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
San Joaquin Valley College - Visalia Visalia CA 627
Shasta College Redding CA 9112
Taft College Taft CA 7331
University of California - San Francisco San Francisco CA 3517
University of Southern California Los Angeles CA 29194
West Los Angeles College Culver City CA 10404
Colorado Northwestern Community College Rangely CO 1834
Community College of Denver Denver CO 6635
Pueblo Community College Pueblo CO 4654
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Denver CO 2399
Tunxis Community College Farmington CT 3412
University of Bridgeport Bridgeport CT 2973
University of New Haven West Haven CT 4349
Howard University Washington DC 10010
Delaware Technical and Community College - Stanton - Wilmington Newark DE 6622
Brevard Community College Cocoa FL 13265
Broward Community College Fort Lauderdale FL 27389
Daytona Beach Community College Daytona Beach FL 10420
Edison College Fort Myers FL 8919
Florida Community College at Jacksonville Jacksonville FL 20838
Gulf Coast Community College Panama City FL 5341
Indian River Community College Fort Pierce FL 13186
Manatee Community College Bradenton FL 7834
Miami Dade College Miami FL 46834
Palm Beach Community College Lake Worth FL 17326
Pasco - Hernando Community College New Port Richey FL 5165
Pensacola Junior College Pensacola FL 9985
Santa Fe Community College Gainesville FL 12464
St Petersburg College Clearwater FL 19900
Tallahassee Community College Tallahassee FL 10816
Valencia Community College Orlando FL 27565
Armstrong Atlantic State University Savannah GA 5444
Clayton State University Morrow GA 4455
Columbus State University Columbus GA 5187
Columbus Technical College Columbus GA 1754
Darton College Albany GA 2805
Gainesville State College Oakwood GA 3248
Georgia Highlands College Rome GA 2090
Georgia Perimeter College Decatur GA 13708
Lanier Technical College Oakwood GA 1987
Macon State College Macon GA 4116
Medical College of Georgia Augusta GA 1932
Valdosta Technical College Valdosta GA 2049
Westcentral Technical College Waco GA 2032
University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu HI 17263
Des Moines Area Community College Ankeny IA 10998
Hawkeye Community College Waterloo IA 4263
Iowa Western Community College Council Bluffs IA 4503
College of Southern Idaho Twin Falls ID 5452
Idaho State University Pocatello ID 13040
Illinois Central College East Peoria IL 11053
Lake Land College Mattoon IL 5925
Lewis and Clark Community College Godfrey IL 6629
Loyola University Chicago Chicago IL 12605
Parkland College Champaign IL 8026
Prairie State College Chicago Heights IL 4795
Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale IL 22552
William Rainey Harper College Palatine IL 15021
Indiana University - Northwest Gary IN 4649
Indiana University - Purdue University - Fort Wayne Fort Wayne IN 10531
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 27525
Indiana University - South Bend South Bend IN 7252
University of Southern Indiana Evansville IN 9012
Vincennes University Vincennes IN 9169
Johnson County Community College Overland Park KS 16383
Wichita State University Wichita KS 14810
Big Sandy Community and Technical College Prestonsburg KY 2207
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College Elizabethtown KY 3484
Henderson Community College Henderson KY 1170
Lexington Community College Lexington KY 7214
University of Louisville Louisville KY 19771
Western Kentucky University Bowling Green KY 15481
Delgado Community College New Orleans LA 12784
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at New Orleans New Orleans LA 2720
Southern University at Shreveport Shreveport LA 1176
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Lafayette LA 15742
University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe LA 9405
Bristol Community College Fall River MA 6054
Cape Cod Community College West Barnstable MA 3884
Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists Boston MA 102
Middlesex Community College Bedford MA 7451
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