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.
|Texas State Technical College - Harlingen||Harlingen||TX||3265|
|Texas Womans University||Denton||TX||8404|
|The University of Tennessee Health Science Center||Memphis||TN||2069|
|The University of Texas Health Science - San Antonio||San Antonio||TX||2543|
|The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston||Houston||TX||3143|
|Trident Technical College||Charleston||SC||10246|
|Tulsa Community College||Tulsa||OK||16270|
|Tunxis Community College||Farmington||CT||3412|
|Tyler Junior College||Tyler||TX||8319|
|Union County College||Cranford||NJ||8655|
|University of Alaska Anchorage||Anchorage||AK||14794|
|University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences||Little Rock||AR||1855|
|University of Bridgeport||Bridgeport||CT||2973|
|University of California - San Francisco||San Francisco||CA||3517|
|University of Cincinnati - Raymond Walters College||Blue Ash||OH||3668|
|University of Colorado Health Sciences Center||Denver||CO||2399|
|University of Detroit Mercy||Detroit||MI||6023|
|University of Hawaii at Manoa||Honolulu||HI||17263|
|University of Louisiana at Lafayette||Lafayette||LA||15742|
|University of Louisiana at Monroe||Monroe||LA||9405|
|University of Louisville||Louisville||KY||19771|
|University of Maine at Augusta||Augusta||ME||5617|
|University of Maryland - Baltimore||Baltimore||MD||5337|
|University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey||Newark||NJ||4666|
|University of Michigan - Ann Arbor||Ann Arbor||MI||38103|
|University of Minnesota - Duluth||Duluth||MN||9087|
|University of Minnesota - Twin Cities||Minneapolis||MN||45481|
|University of Mississippi Medical Center||Jackson||MS||1674|
|University of Missouri - Kansas City||Kansas City||MO||12762|
|University of Nebraska Medical Center||Omaha||NE||2695|
|University of New England||Biddeford||ME||2684|
|University of New Haven||West Haven||CT||4349|
|University of New Mexico - Main Campus||Albuquerque||NM||23670|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||NC||24892|
|University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center||Oklahoma City||OK||2759|
|University of Pittsburgh - Main Campus||Pittsburgh||PA||26329|
|University of Rhode Island||Kingston||RI||14362|
|University of South Dakota||Vermillion||SD||7487|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles||CA||29194|
|University of Southern Indiana||Evansville||IN||9012|
|University of Vermont and State Agricultural Coll||Burlington||VT||10118|
|University of Washington - Seattle Campus||Seattle||WA||36139|
|University of Wyoming||Laramie||WY||11743|
|Utah Valley State College||Orem||UT||20946|
|Valdosta Technical College||Valdosta||GA||2049|
|Valencia Community College||Orlando||FL||27565|
|Virginia Commonwealth University||Richmond||VA||24066|
|Virginia Western Community College||Roanoke||VA||7307|
|Waukesha County Technical College||Pewaukee||WI||7943|
|Wayne Community College||Goldsboro||NC||2958|
|Wayne County Community College District||Detroit||MI||9008|
|Weber State University||Ogden||UT||16050|
|West Chester University of Pennsylvania||West Chester||PA||12272|
|West Liberty State College||West Liberty||WV||2606|
|West Los Angeles College||Culver City||CA||10404|
|West Virginia University||Morgantown||WV||21987|
|West Virginia University Institute of Technology||Montgomery||WV||2326|
|Westcentral Technical College||Waco||GA||2032|
|Western Kentucky University||Bowling Green||KY||15481|
|Westmoreland County Community College||Youngwood||PA||5272|
|Wharton County Junior College||Wharton||TX||4571|
|Wichita State University||Wichita||KS||14810|
|William Rainey Harper College||Palatine||IL||15021|
|Wytheville Community College||Wytheville||VA||2339|
|Yakima Valley Community College||Yakima||WA||3916|
|York Technical College||Rock Hill||SC||3597|
|Youngstown State University||Youngstown||OH||11787|