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
Youngstown State University Youngstown OH 11787
York Technical College Rock Hill SC 3597
Yakima Valley Community College Yakima WA 3916
Wytheville Community College Wytheville VA 2339
William Rainey Harper College Palatine IL 15021
Wichita State University Wichita KS 14810
Wharton County Junior College Wharton TX 4571
Westmoreland County Community College Youngwood PA 5272
Western Kentucky University Bowling Green KY 15481
Westcentral Technical College Waco GA 2032
West Virginia University Institute of Technology Montgomery WV 2326
West Virginia University Morgantown WV 21987
West Los Angeles College Culver City CA 10404
West Liberty State College West Liberty WV 2606
West Chester University of Pennsylvania West Chester PA 12272
Weber State University Ogden UT 16050
Wayne County Community College District Detroit MI 9008
Wayne Community College Goldsboro NC 2958
Waukesha County Technical College Pewaukee WI 7943
Virginia Western Community College Roanoke VA 7307
Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond VA 24066
Vincennes University Vincennes IN 9169
Valencia Community College Orlando FL 27565
Valdosta Technical College Valdosta GA 2049
Utah Valley State College Orem UT 20946
University of Wyoming Laramie WY 11743
University of Washington - Seattle Campus Seattle WA 36139
University of Vermont and State Agricultural Coll Burlington VT 10118
University of Southern Indiana Evansville IN 9012
University of Southern California Los Angeles CA 29194
University of South Dakota Vermillion SD 7487
University of Rhode Island Kingston RI 14362
University of Pittsburgh - Main Campus Pittsburgh PA 26329
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Oklahoma City OK 2759
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill NC 24892
University of New Mexico - Main Campus Albuquerque NM 23670
University of New Haven West Haven CT 4349
University of New England Biddeford ME 2684
University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha NE 2695
University of Missouri - Kansas City Kansas City MO 12762
University of Mississippi Medical Center Jackson MS 1674
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Minneapolis MN 45481
University of Minnesota - Duluth Duluth MN 9087
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Ann Arbor MI 38103
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Newark NJ 4666
University of Maryland - Baltimore Baltimore MD 5337
University of Maine at Augusta Augusta ME 5617
University of Louisville Louisville KY 19771
University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe LA 9405
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Lafayette LA 15742
University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu HI 17263
University of Detroit Mercy Detroit MI 6023
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Denver CO 2399
University of Cincinnati - Raymond Walters College Blue Ash OH 3668
University of California - San Francisco San Francisco CA 3517
University of Bridgeport Bridgeport CT 2973
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Little Rock AR 1855
University of Alaska Anchorage Anchorage AK 14794
Union County College Cranford NJ 8655
Tyler Junior College Tyler TX 8319
Tunxis Community College Farmington CT 3412
Tulsa Community College Tulsa OK 16270
Trident Technical College Charleston SC 10246
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Houston TX 3143
The University of Texas Health Science - San Antonio San Antonio TX 2543
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Memphis TN 2069
Texas Womans University Denton TX 8404
Texas State Technical College - Harlingen Harlingen TX 3265
Texas A & M University System Health Science Center College Station TX 1014
Tennessee State University Nashville TN 8640
Temple College Temple TX 3404
Tarrant County College Fort Worth TX 26868
Tallahassee Community College Tallahassee FL 10816
Taft College Taft CA 7331
Stark State College of Technology Canton OH 4507
St Petersburg College Clearwater FL 19900
Springfield Technical Community College Springfield MA 6705
Southern University at Shreveport Shreveport LA 1176
Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale IL 22552
Sinclair Community College Dayton OH 19026
Siena Heights University Adrian MI 1972
Shoreline Community College Shoreline WA 6600
Sheridan College Sheridan WY 2674
Shawnee State University Portsmouth OH 3280
Shasta College Redding CA 9112
Schoolcraft College Livonia MI 9016
Santa Fe Community College Gainesville FL 12464
San Joaquin Valley College - Visalia Visalia CA 627
Salt Lake Community College Salt Lake City UT 21596
Saint Louis Community College - Forest Park Saint Louis MO 6749
Saint Cloud Technical College Saint Cloud MN 2949
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
Rose State College Midwest City OK 7471
Rogers State University Claremore OK 2640
Rochester Community and Technical College Rochester MN 4778
Roane State Community College Harriman TN 5099
Rio Salado College Tempe AZ 11275
Quinsigamond Community College Worcester MA 5617
Pueblo Community College Pueblo CO 4654
Prairie State College Chicago Heights IL 4795
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