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).
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:
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:
A dental hygienist with a bachelor's degree can find work as a:
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:
What can you be with a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene?
We found 268 schools offering dental hygienist degree programs in the U.S.
|Lakeland Community College||Kirtland||OH||7722|
|Lakeland Medical Dental Academy Inc - Division of Herzing College||Minneapolis||MN||286|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Palm Beach Community College||Lake Worth||FL||17326|
|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|
|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|
|Shawnee State University||Portsmouth||OH||3280|
|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|
|Tallahassee Community College||Tallahassee||FL||10816|
|Tarrant County College||Fort Worth||TX||26868|
|Tennessee State University||Nashville||TN||8640|
|Texas A & M University System Health Science Center||College Station||TX||1014|