Dental Hygienist Careers and Education Tracks

Read about dental hygienist education and careers, including job description, required education and salary.

The Basics: Dental Hygienist

What you'll do: Working side-by-side with a dentist, your main concern will be preventative oral health care, cleaning patients' teeth and educating them about caring for their teeth and gums between dental appointments.

Where you'll work: Private dental offices, hospitals, public health clinics, dental schools, research facilities

Degree you'll need: At least an associate's degree

Median annual salary: $70,210*

Education and Qualifications

To become a dental hygienist, you'll need either a 2- or 4-year degree in dental hygiene. Most programs are two years long and lead to an associate's degree. They are offered through community colleges and technical colleges.

Your coursework will include classes such as the following:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology and Immunology
  • Introduction to dental hygiene
  • Dental anatomy
  • Radiology
  • Periodontics
  • Pharmacology for dental hygiene
  • Patient/Pain management

Your studies will encompass laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction.

Licensing and Certification

Each state requires dental hygienists to be licensed, and requirements vary by state. For most, licensure requires a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program and passing written and clinical exams administered by the American Dental Association's (ADA) Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations.

After earning licensure, dental hygienists may use "RDH" after their names to signify that they are a Registered Dental Hygienist.

Check with the medical or health board in the state you choose to work in.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Dental Hygienists.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Did You Know?

  • According to the ADA, the first training program for "dental nurses" was established in 1910 at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery.
  • Early versions of "toothpaste" were made from a variety of abrasive materials, including crushed egg shells, dried flowers and burnt animal hooves.
  • Before the invention of Novocain in 1905, cocaine was used as a dental anesthetic.

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