How Do I Become a Dental Hygienist?

Individuals who want to work in dentistry without spending many years in college often choose to become dental hygienists. Dental hygienist work looks so interesting that many high school students who tour dental offices often ask how they can become dental hygienists. To work in this profession, candidates must complete a formal training program and obtain licensure in his or her state. Here is all the information needed on how to become a dental hygienist as well as what to expect with this career.

Education Requirements

To work as a dental hygienist, an individual must have at least an associate degree in dental hygiene. Some dental hygienists may choose a bachelor’s degree program, but most have an associate’s degree. Students who choose the bachelor’s degree program often choose careers in teaching, research or clinical practice in school or public health programs.

Although an associate’s degree can be completed in two years, it actually takes about three years to become a dental hygienist. The student must complete a dental hygienist program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. There are currently more than 300 CDA-accredited programs in the U.S.

The program includes classroom instruction, lab studies and clinical work. Course topics include chemistry, medical ethics, biology, anatomy and periodontics. Most dental hygienist programs require students to complete certain prerequisite courses prior to starting the actual associate’s degree program. This pre-dental program is usually the reason it takes three years to become a dental hygienist.

Certification/Licensure

Dental hygienist are required to be licensed in all the states, but licensure requirements may vary from state to state. Aspiring dental hygienists should contact their state’s Board of Dental Examiners. In almost all states, students must complete the following steps to become licensed.

  • Successfully complete an accredited dental hygiene program
  • Successfully complete the written National Board Dental Hygiene Exam
  • Successfully complete a state or regional clinical board exam.

To maintain licensure, dental hygienists must complete continuing education according to the American Dental Hygienist’ Association. The continuing education requirements also vary from state to state.

For instance, dental hygienists in the District of Columbia are required to complete 8 hours of self-study; 2 hours of infection control and CPR training. Maryland dental hygienists must have up to 17 hours of self-study; 3 hours of abuse and neglect training; 2 hours o CPR infection control and 8 hours of voluntary dental hygiene service every two years.

Career Outlook

As the aging population is living longer and trying to maintain good dental care, dental offices will be in need of qualified dental hygienists. Schools are now promoting good dental health at younger ages, which is also increasing the number of people seeking dental care. This also bodes well for dental hygienists.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that dental hygienists can expect a 11% job growth during the 2018-2028 decade. As of May 2018, dental hygienist wages ranged from $51,930 to $101,820 yearly with the average annual wage at $75,500. The states where dental hygienists earn the highest wages are Alaska, California, Washington, Arizona and New Jersey.

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Dental hygienists may not earn as much as dentists, but their work is just as interesting and stimulating. It’s an ideal career for someone who wants to help patients but not in a regular healthcare facility. The good wages this career offers has more and more individuals wondering what it takes to become a dental hygienist.