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Becoming a Dental Hygienist: What Degree Do You Need?

February 09, 2023 · 4 min read

Dental hygiene is a rewarding and challenging career that offers the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives by helping them maintain good oral health. As a dental hygienist, you will work closely with dentists and patients to provide preventive care, clean teeth, take X-rays, and educate patients on proper oral hygiene practices. If you're considering a career in dental hygiene, it's important to know the education requirements and what degree you need to become a dental hygienist.

The minimum educational requirement for a dental hygienist is an associate's degree in dental hygieneAn associate's degree program typically takes two years to complete and provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to enter the workforce as entry-level dental hygienists. The program includes coursework in anatomy and physiology, dental materials, periodontics, and pharmacology, as well as clinical experiences where students get hands-on training in providing patient care.

After completing an associate's degree program, dental hygienists must pass a national board exam to become licensed to practice in their state. In addition, many states also require dental hygienists to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licensure.

While an associate's degree is the minimum requirement, some dental hygienists choose to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in dental hygiene. These advanced degrees provide additional training in research, leadership, and management, and may open up opportunities for advancement in the field.

In addition to formal education, dental hygienists must also possess certain personal qualities to be successful in their careers. They must be detail-oriented and have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as they will be working closely with patients and dentists. They must also be comfortable using technology and tools such as X-ray machines, ultrasonic scalers, and dental instruments.

Dental hygienists who want to specialize in a particular area of the field can do so by obtaining additional certification. For example, some dental hygienists specialize in children's oral health, periodontics, or dental hygiene education. To become certified, dental hygienists must complete additional coursework and pass an exam in their area of specialization.

The demand for dental hygienists is growing, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment in the field will increase by 9% from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. As the population continues to age, there will be a growing need for preventive dental care, which will increase the demand for dental hygienists.

In terms of salary, dental hygienists are well compensated for their education and skills. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for dental hygienists was $77,810 in May 2021. The highest-paying industries for dental hygienists include offices of dentists, outpatient care centers, and state, local, and private hospitals.

In conclusion, to become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete an associate's degree in dental hygiene, pass a national board exam, and obtain licensure in your state. While an associate's degree is the minimum requirement, advanced degrees in dental hygiene may open up opportunities for advancement in the field. In addition to formal education, dental hygienists must possess strong communication and interpersonal skills, be comfortable using technology, and have a passion for helping others maintain good oral health.

The demand for dental hygienists is growing, and the field offers competitive salaries and opportunities for specialization. Whether you're just starting your career or looking to make a change, a career in dental hygiene can provide a fulfilling and rewarding path. If you're interested in pursuing a career in dental hygiene, it's important to research the requirements and programs available in your area and speak with practicing dental hygienists to learn more about the day-to-day aspects of the job.

In conclusion, becoming a dental hygienist requires a combination of formal education, hands-on training, and personal qualities. By obtaining the right degree and certification, and by having a passion for helping others, you can enjoy a rewarding and fulfilling career as a dental hygienist.

by Liza Sushko

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