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

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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
Aiken Technical College Graniteville SC 2268
Allegany College of Maryland Cumberland MD 2592
Amarillo College Amarillo TX 8422
Armstrong Atlantic State University Savannah GA 5444
Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College Asheville NC 4940
Baker College of Port Huron Port Huron MI 1230
Baltimore City Community College Baltimore MD 5883
Bates Technical College Tacoma WA 14808
Bergen Community College Paramus NJ 11993
Big Sandy Community and Technical College Prestonsburg KY 2207
Blinn College Brenham TX 11588
Brevard Community College Cocoa FL 13265
Bristol Community College Fall River MA 6054
Broome Community College Binghamton NY 5663
Broward Community College Fort Lauderdale FL 27389
Cabrillo College Aptos CA 12807
Camden County College Blackwood NJ 12131
Cape Cod Community College West Barnstable MA 3884
Catawba Valley Community College Hickory NC 3731
Central Carolina Technical College Sumter SC 2546
Central Community College Grand Island NE 7126
Central Piedmont Community College Charlotte NC 14908
Century Community and Technical College White Bear Lake MN 6937
Cerritos College Norwalk CA 24536
Chabot College Hayward CA 13615
Chattanooga State Technical Community College Chattanooga TN 7873
Clark College Vancouver WA 8241
Clayton State University Morrow GA 4455
Coastal Bend College Beeville TX 3259
Coastal Carolina Community College Jacksonville NC 3780
College of Southern Idaho Twin Falls ID 5452
Collin County Community College District Plano TX 12996
Colorado Northwestern Community College Rangely CO 1834
Columbus State University Columbus GA 5187
Columbus Technical College Columbus GA 1754
Community College of Denver Denver CO 6635
Community College of Philadelphia Philadelphia PA 15953
Community College of Rhode Island Warwick RI 15583
Community College of Southern Nevada North Las Vegas NV 29905
Cuny Hostos Community College Bronx NY 3115
Cuny New York City College of Technology Brooklyn NY 11028
Cuyahoga Community College District Cleveland OH 19518
Cypress College Cypress CA 21361
Darton College Albany GA 2805
Daytona Beach Community College Daytona Beach FL 10420
Del Mar College Corpus Christi TX 9936
Delaware Technical and Community College - Stanton - Wilmington Newark DE 6622
Delgado Community College New Orleans LA 12784
Delta College University Center MI 9358
Des Moines Area Community College Ankeny IA 10998
Diablo Valley College Pleasant Hill CA 21581
Dixie State College of Utah Saint George UT 6350
East Tennessee State University Johnson City TN 11063
Eastern Washington University Cheney WA 8597
Edison College Fort Myers FL 8919
El Camino College Torrance CA 24067
El Paso Community College El Paso TX 18001
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College Elizabethtown KY 3484
Erie Community College - North Campus Williamsville NY 4665
Essex County College Newark NJ 8868
Farmingdale State University of New York Farmingdale NY 5045
Fayetteville Technical Community College Fayetteville NC 8310
Ferris State University Big Rapids MI 9847
Florence - Darlington Technical College Florence SC 3814
Florida Community College at Jacksonville Jacksonville FL 20838
Foothill College Los Altos Hills CA 14193
Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists Boston MA 102
Fresno City College Fresno CA 19351
Gainesville State College Oakwood GA 3248
George C Wallace State Community College - Hanceville Hanceville AL 4696
Georgia Highlands College Rome GA 2090
Georgia Perimeter College Decatur GA 13708
Grand Rapids Community College Grand Rapids MI 13400
Greenville Technical College Greenville SC 10786
Guilford Technical Community College Jamestown NC 8008
Gulf Coast Community College Panama City FL 5341
Harcum College Bryn Mawr PA 545
Harrisburg Area Community College - Harrisburg Harrisburg PA 7572
Hawkeye Community College Waterloo IA 4263
Henderson Community College Henderson KY 1170
Horry - Georgetown Technical College Conway SC 3693
Howard College Big Spring TX 2260
Howard University Washington DC 10010
Hudson Valley Community College Troy NY 9304
Idaho State University Pocatello ID 13040
Illinois Central College East Peoria IL 11053
Indian River Community College Fort Pierce FL 13186
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
Iowa Western Community College Council Bluffs IA 4503
J Sargeant Reynolds Community College Richmond VA 10091
James A Rhodes State College Lima OH 2521
Johnson County Community College Overland Park KS 16383
Kalamazoo Valley Community College Kalamazoo MI 9319
Kellogg Community College Battle Creek MI 5300
Lake Land College Mattoon IL 5925
Lake Superior College Duluth MN 3972
Lake Washington Technical College Kirkland WA 3917
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