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:

  • Dental Assisting - Associate's
Locations:  Manassas

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
Lakeland Community College Kirtland OH 7722
Lakeland Medical Dental Academy Inc - Division of Herzing College Minneapolis MN 286
Lamar University Beaumont TX 11550
Lane Community College Eugene OR 9957
Lanier Technical College Oakwood GA 1987
Lansing Community College Lansing MI 16011
Lewis and Clark Community College Godfrey IL 6629
Lexington Community College Lexington KY 7214
Loma Linda University Loma Linda CA 3153
Lorain County Community College Elyria OH 10521
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at New Orleans New Orleans LA 2720
Loyola University Chicago Chicago IL 12605
Luzerne County Community College Nanticoke PA 5920
Macon State College Macon GA 4116
Madison Area Technical College Madison WI 14474
Manatee Community College Bradenton FL 7834
Manor College Jenkintown PA 684
Marquette University Milwaukee WI 10892
Medical College of Georgia Augusta GA 1932
Meharry Medical College Nashville TN 905
Meridian Community College Meridian MS 3096
Miami Dade College Miami FL 46834
Middlesex Community College Bedford MA 7451
Middlesex County College Edison NJ 10398
Midlands Technical College West Columbia SC 9702
Midwestern State University Wichita Falls TX 5809
Milwaukee Area Technical College Milwaukee WI 14296
Minnesota State Community Technical College - Moorhead Moorhead MN No Data
Minnesota State University - Mankato Mankato MN 12842
Missouri Southern State University Joplin MO 5785
Monroe Community College Rochester NY 15315
Montgomery County Community College Blue Bell PA 8922
Mott Community College Flint MI 8659
Mt Hood Community College Gresham OR 8556
New Hampshire Technical Institute Concord NH 2809
New York University New York NY 37150
Normandale Community College Bloomington MN 7347
North Dakota State College of Science Wahpeton ND 2425
Northampton County Area Community College Bethlehem PA 4797
Northcentral Technical College Wausau WI 3821
Northeast Mississippi Community College Booneville MS 2796
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Green Bay WI 7500
Northeastern University Boston MA 23897
Northern Arizona University Flagstaff AZ 19964
Northern Virginia Community College Annandale VA 37073
Northwest Mississippi Community College Senatobia MS 4776
Oakland Community College - Bloomfield Hills Campus Bloomfield Hills MI 23188
Ohio State University - Main Campus Columbus OH 47952
Old Dominion University Norfolk VA 18969
Onondaga Community College Syracuse NY 7848
Orange County Community College Middletown NY 5374
Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College Orangeburg SC 1861
Oregon Health & Science University Portland OR 1905
Oregon Institute of Technology Klamath Falls OR 2815
Owens Community College Perrysburg OH 15845
Oxnard College Oxnard CA 7105
Palm Beach Community College Lake Worth FL 17326
Parkland College Champaign IL 8026
Pasadena City College Pasadena CA 22948
Pasco - Hernando Community College New Port Richey FL 5165
Pearl River Community College Poplarville MS 2800
Pennsylvania College of Technology Williamsport PA 5320
Pensacola Junior College Pensacola FL 9985
Phoenix College Phoenix AZ 12386
Piedmont Technical College Greenwood SC 4104
Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom Lakewood WA 9238
Pima Community College Tucson AZ 28078
Portland Community College Portland OR 24209
Prairie State College Chicago Heights IL 4795
Pueblo Community College Pueblo CO 4654
Quinsigamond Community College Worcester MA 5617
Rio Salado College Tempe AZ 11275
Roane State Community College Harriman TN 5099
Rochester Community and Technical College Rochester MN 4778
Rogers State University Claremore OK 2640
Rose State College Midwest City OK 7471
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
Saint Cloud Technical College Saint Cloud MN 2949
Saint Louis Community College - Forest Park Saint Louis MO 6749
Salt Lake Community College Salt Lake City UT 21596
San Joaquin Valley College - Visalia Visalia CA 627
Santa Fe Community College Gainesville FL 12464
Schoolcraft College Livonia MI 9016
Shasta College Redding CA 9112
Shawnee State University Portsmouth OH 3280
Sheridan College Sheridan WY 2674
Shoreline Community College Shoreline WA 6600
Siena Heights University Adrian MI 1972
Sinclair Community College Dayton OH 19026
Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale IL 22552
Southern University at Shreveport Shreveport LA 1176
Springfield Technical Community College Springfield MA 6705
St Petersburg College Clearwater FL 19900
Stark State College of Technology Canton OH 4507
Taft College Taft CA 7331
Tallahassee Community College Tallahassee FL 10816
Tarrant County College Fort Worth TX 26868
Temple College Temple TX 3404
Tennessee State University Nashville TN 8640
Texas A & M University System Health Science Center College Station TX 1014
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