How to Become a Dental Hygienist

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 19% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health to general health will continue to spur demand for the preventive dental services provided by dental hygienists. Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

1. Decide if becoming a dental hygienist is right for you.

Being a dental hygienist is a good option if you desire a well-paid career. The average salary after dental education is $70,210, compared to the national salary average of $44,888, which may be the reason more and more people are pursuing this field. Another appealing quality is that the training associated with becoming a dental hygienist is much shorter than that of other high-paying occupations. While many other jobs require a 6-month to 2-year training period, most states don’t require dental hygienists to have on-the-job training. In addition, the required education level for dental hygienists is only an associate degree. It is possible to earn an associate degree in dental hygiene and enter the workforce in just two years. Before working in a dental clinic, you might be required to take a licensing examination. This depends on the rules of each state.

While the role of a dental hygienist is an important part of our health care system, as with many professions, it relies largely on repeated application of specific skills that may become rote or routine over time. Thus, to ensure this job is right for you, it is a good idea to become as familiar as possible with the job before entering this career, perhaps by seeking out shadowing opportunities or an administrative position in a dental office. In addition, the availability of jobs in this profession may vary widely depending on where you live. It would be wise to evaluate the demand for dental hygienists either in your area or in an area to which you are willing to relocate.

 2. Complete a dental hygienist program.

Dental hygienists are typically required to have an associate degree in dental hygiene. Associate level degrees in dental hygiene are usually found at community colleges, dental schools, technical institutions and universities. The majority of community college programs take at least two years to complete. Completing a dental hygiene associate degree allows you to sit for licensure exams.

3. Get and maintain certified.

All states require dental hygienists to be licensed, and the requirements vary from state to state. In most states, a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program is required for licensure. Other requirements can include CPR certification, school transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Candidates have to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE), a written exam administered by the American Dental Association, as well as complete a regional or state clinical board exam. The state or regional examination tests candidates’ skills and knowledge of dental hygiene and related subjects.

To maintain licensure, hygienists must complete continuing education requirements. The specific requirements vary in each state. For instance, California dental hygienist licenses must be renewed every 2 years by the Dental Hygiene Committee of California (DHCC).

 4. Pursue further education.

Although associatedegrees are sufficient to become a dental hygienist, some hygienists gain higher degrees to help advance their careers. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dental hygiene may allow hygienists to pursue further careers beyond dental offices, such as in teaching and research. Advanced degrees may also be necessary for some positions in public health or school clinics.


Ready to see if a career as a dental hygienist is right for you? Check out these videos from PathSource to hear what real dental hygienists have to say!

DENTAL HYGIENIST: People’s Teeth Can Be Dirty!

DENTAL HYGIENE STUDENT/OFFICE ASSISTANT: It’s A Really Good Career Path


If you have an iPhone, download PathSource for free on the App Store for unlimited access to videos about dental hygienists and hundreds of other professions. For Android users, a light version is available to download on Google Play with videos coming soon!

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