How to Become a Dental Hygienist:
The Definitive Guide


We all want to have beautiful teeth, right?

There’s nothing worse than having something stuck in your teeth or the awful pain of a cavity.

While working in a dentist’s office, you could be the person that helps others get their pearly white smiles.

Armed with a pick and a mirror, you can defeat cavities with your skills as a Dental Hygienist.

Curious to know how?

Keep on reading!

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What is a Dental Hygienist?

A Dental Hygienist provides preventative care to dental patients.

Don’t let the masks fool you, most Dental Hygienists are very nice and welcoming and you could be one too!

Unlike a Dental Assistant, you’ll have much more one on one interaction with patients.

If you find pleasure in taking care of your teeth and other peoples, love to teach patients how to prevent cavities, and perform cleanings and x-rays, then you may want to see what it takes to become a Dental Hygienist!

Duties

The duties performed by a Dental Hygienist may vary depending on the state and the office that you work for, but you can typically expect to:

  • Complete preliminary exams on patients
  • Clean and remove stains, plaque, and tartar
  • Apply fluoride and sealants
  • Take x-rays
  • Document treatment plans
  • Exam patients oral health and give findings to dentist
  • Educate patients on correct oral health practices
  • Administer local anesthetics

Salary

On average, a Dental Hygienist can make around $74,000 a year in the United States.

The top salary tier is around $85,000, and this can be earned with experience, education, and knowledge in the field.

Don’t expect to make this much right out of the gate, though.

Typically, people who are just starting out in this career will make around $64,000 a year.

That’s still quite a pretty penny!

Some of the things to think about when searching for that higher pay is where the office is located, the certifications that may get you closer to your goal, and any other specialties that might set you above the rest.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $77,230

$53K
$64K
$77K
$91K
$103K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$48,090
Alaska$114,790
Arizona$84,300
Arkansas$67,410
California$106,240
Colorado$86,140
Connecticut$82,600
Delaware$83,470
District of Columbia$102,380
Florida$66,170
Georgia$65,590
Hawaii$83,430
Idaho$75,910
Illinois$72,050
Indiana$68,390
Iowa$70,600
Kansas$68,340
Kentucky$61,090
Louisiana$65,960
Maine$67,510
Maryland$86,940
Massachusetts$84,280
Michigan$65,610
Minnesota$75,570
Mississippi$56,150
Missouri$69,660
Montana$75,610
Nebraska$66,380
Nevada$85,560
New Hampshire$81,460
New Jersey$87,270
New Mexico$74,960
New York$76,960
North Carolina$70,750
North Dakota$72,550
Ohio$67,900
Oklahoma$75,990
Oregon$87,270
Pennsylvania$67,940
Rhode Island$75,330
South Carolina$63,710
South Dakota$66,840
Tennessee$67,690
Texas$76,490
Utah$69,320
Vermont$75,070
Virginia$79,370
Washington$93,200
West Virginia$60,340
Wisconsin$67,810
Wyoming$69,610
Guam$56,360

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $114,790.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $114,790
California - $106,240
District of Columbia - $102,380
Washington - $93,200
Oregon - $87,270
*Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Step 1Earn a Degree

The first thing that you are going to want to do when you decide to become a Dental Hygienist is to figure out which type of degree you want to earn.

It’s possible to work as a Dental Hygienist with an Associates’ degree, but it’s also possible to earn a Bachelors’s degree in Dental Hygiene.

Many community colleges, universities, dental schools, and technical schools provide Dental Hygiene programs, you’ll have to look around to see what works best for you.

In order to be accepted into a program, you’ll need to have a high school diploma or GED and have knowledge of these subjects:

  • Health
  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Chemistry
  • Math
  • Speech

While in school, it is also required that you work with patients which can help with real-life work experience.

Since most dentists require only an Associates’ degree in order to be hired as a Dental Hygienist, that is what we will talk about today.

Some of the classes that you can expect to take to earn an Associates degree include:

  • Physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Radiography
  • Pathology
  • Medical Ethics
  • Patient Management
  • Periodontics

A typical Dental Hygienist program can take anywhere from two years to three years to complete.

You’ll want to make sure that the school you attend is accredited with the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Step 2Become Licensed

Every state in the United States requires that a Dental Hygienist be licensed in order to work.

In order to be a candidate for licensure, you’ll need a passing grade on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.

You’ll also need to take the state-authorized licensure exam, which can vary depending on where you live.

With both exams, you’ll be required to showcase your skills in clinical dental hygiene both physically and in written form.

When it comes to the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, there are some specific areas to keep in mind when studying:

  • Scientific Basis for Dental Hygiene Practice
  • Provision of Clinical Dental Hygiene Services
  • Community Health/Research Principles

There are two parts to this test, and each part costs $100 to take.

You will have thirty days from the day that you pay for the test to take it.

It is possible to take the test up to three times in one year.

Another thing to keep in mind is that licensure doesn’t last forever, you’ll need to renew your license after two years of working as a Dental Hygienist.

Step 3Find a Job

After you become licensed, it’s time to get in some work experience.

You may already have some work experience through clinicals, internships, and other opportunities while going through a Dental Hygienist program, which can look great on your resume.

Due to the fact that there is a lot of competition when it comes to finding that perfect career for you, many people with a degree in Dental Hygiene end up working in areas such as:

  • Dental Radiography
  • Public Health Administration
  • Dental Hygiene Educator
  • Pediatric Dental Hygienist

If you’re looking for something more long term or something with more upward mobility, it may be necessary to seek higher education.

Continue Your Education

Some people want to earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Dental Hygiene.

This can open many more doors than an Associates’s degree, however, it can take several more years to complete your education.

With a Bachelors degree, you’ll typically take courses like:

  • Oral Biochemistry
  • Dental Specialties
  • Preventative Dental Care
  • Principles of Pharmacology
  • Periodontal Disease

There are currently 15 states that have a Master’s degree level of Dental Hygiene programs.

It is possible to complete a Master’s degree in this program in one year.

In addition to coursework, you’ll need to take a comprehensive exam to earn your degree.

Common courses at the Master’s degree level include:

  • Systematic Research Writing
  • Dental Hygiene Theory and Science
  • Geriatric Dental Issues
  • Systematic Dental Conditions

Education

Many universities, community colleges, dental schools, and technical schools provide Dental Hygienist programs.

Most Associates degrees and Bachelor’s degrees in Dental Hygiene end in an externship.

Typically, in a Dental Hygienist program, you will take courses such as:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Dental Hygiene
  • Dental Radiology
  • Oral Pathology
  • Dental Pharmacology

When working toward a Bachelors’s degree, you can expect more coursework.

You will likely take general education classes, to begin with, in which you can find courses like:

  • English
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Speech
  • Math

But, you’ll also be required to take more specific classes like:

  • Dental Anatomy
  • Radiology
  • Head and Neck Anatomy
  • Periodontology

A Bachelors’s degree takes around four years to complete, while an Associates’ degree can take around two years.

In order to be admitted into a Dental Hygienist program, you will need to make sure that you have all of the following requirements:

  • Minimum ACT/SAT scores
  • Completion of high school chemistry and biology classes
  • Minimum of 2.5 high school GPA
  • Personal interview
  • Written interview
  • Professional and Academic references
  • Application essay
  • CPR Certification

There are currently 55 accredited programs that will allow you to earn a Bachelors degree as a dental hygienist in the United States, these degrees include:

  • Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences
  • Bachelor of Science in Allied Health
  • Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene

There are also some people who choose to earn a Master’s degree, which can open many more doors.

If you are planning to keep your career as a Dental Hygienist, it is not necessary to earn a Master’s degree.

If you are looking to advance your career, then earning a Master’s may be in your favor.

Some of the Master’s degrees you can earn include:

  • Practice Administration
  • Human Resources
  • Diagnosis and Treatment Planning

Being a Dental Hygienist can be a very lucrative career and something that should be given extra thought to when deciding how much education you would like to have.

Video About The Career


Licensing

In order to be a Dental Hygienist, you will need to take the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam, which will allow you to be licensed.

The National Board Dental Hygiene exam is done in two parts.

Component A consists of 200 questions in three areas:

  • The scientific basis of dental hygiene
  • Community health and research
  • Provision of clinical dental services

Component B consists of 150 case-based questions that showcase the ability of the person taking the exam.

After you pass the exam, you will be a licensed Dental Hygienist.

It is also likely that you will need to pass a state board examination as well.

This exam can be different depending on where you live, but some of the regional testing agencies you can expect to see in the United States include:

  • Western Regional Exam Board
  • Southern Regional Testing Agency
  • Council of Interstate Testing Agencies
  • Central Regional Dental Testing Services

California and Delaware have their own state-specific examinations, they are:

  • California Clinical Dental Hygienist Examination
  • Delaware Practical Board Examination in Dental Hygiene

The majority of states allow you to take the exam and begin working as a Dental Hygienist, however, there are some states that require a bit more for licensure:

Alabama requires two letters of recommendation from a licensed dentist or Dental Hygienist.

Arizona requires proof of the completion of 1,000 hours of training.

You must also complete further education and training in every state.

Depending on the state that you live, it may be required to renew your license every few years.

For example, in Michigan, you must renew your license every three years and complete 36 hours of continued education within that time.

Some states also require that you have an active CPR certification as well.

In addition to this, some states also require:

  • Child abuse clearance
  • Criminal background check
  • Proof of immunizations
  • Basic Life Support certification
  • Training in infection control

Certification Example:

dental hygienist certificate example

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

The average training duration to become a Dental Hygienist is only a couple of years.

Most Dental Hygienists earn an Associates degree, which takes around two years.

Plus, you will need experience.

Depending on whether you do an externship or begin working right out of school, having more experience can lead to a better career.

It’s possible for employers to include training in the job, which can take from two weeks to a month.

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Job Outlook

The job outlook for a Dental Hygienist in the next decade is projected to grow eleven percent.

This is higher than many careers in the same field.

It’s possible that the demand for Dental Hygienists will increase as the population gets older.

Another factor in the rise of Dental Hygienist jobs is the ongoing link between oral health and overall health.

Also, many states are requiring Dental Hygienists to earn a higher degree, which means more job openings for those at the top of their careers.

Employment Growth Projection: 11%

219,800
2018
243,500
2028

That's a higher than average projected growth of 23,700 jobs.

Dental Hygienist: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Dental Hygienist?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

Many Dental Hygienists love their jobs and would say that they are happy with their choice of career.

The hours can be in your favor, depending on where you work.

Some Dental Hygienists work in more than one dental office in order to work 40 hour weeks.

There is a reward factor to the work of a Dental Hygienist, and that is one of the reasons that many people enjoy this job.

One thing to keep in mind is that it is a very laborious job on the hands and wrists, which can cause discomfort over time.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

The average salary in the United States for a Dental Hygienist is around $74,000 a year.

When just starting out in the career, it is expected that you’ll make around $64,000 a year.

After some years of experience, you can make up to $85,000 as a Dental Hygienist.

With certifications, more education, and specializations it is possible to make even more than that.

Other factors to keep in mind are the population of the area in which you work, and the type of office that you are employed in.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

The job of a Dental Hygienist is expected to grow around 11 percent within the next ten years.

This means that there will be more jobs for Dental Hygienists than ever before.

Dental hygiene and oral health are important factors in the world today, and the rise in the aging population will account for the rise in Dental Hygienist jobs.

Depending on what type of facility you work, whether it’s a dentist’s office, clinic, hospital, or another facility, the career growth may change.

Those that work in larger populations will likely have more job openings available than people who work in smaller communities.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

Depending on how much education you want to receive, it may take you around two years to six years to become a Dental Hygienist.

Most Dental Hygienists earn an Associates’ degree, but others decide to work toward a Bachelors’s degree which can take four years.

Those that want to be at the top of their careers can earn a Master’s degree in Dental Hygiene.

This can take another two years to complete.

So, it’s up to you!

Do you want to work as a Dental Hygienist right away?

Or do you want to spend six years in school to be one of the top Dental Hygienists?

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

As a Dental Hygienist, you will work very closely with patients.

Some of the personal skills that you should have include:

  • Empathy – many patients are scared and anxious about being at the dentist
  • Optimism
  • Confidence
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Flexibility-sometimes your schedule might change on a dime
  • Dexterity
  • Sense of Humor
  • Respect


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How much does a Dental Hygienist make?

A Dental Hygienist can make around $74,000 a year on average in the United States.

When just starting out as a Dental Hygienist, it is more likely that you will make around $64,000.

Those that have been in the career for many years, or who have a lot of education can expect to make around $85,000 a year.

Other factors to consider are the facility in which you work, and the population of the area.

Q. What does a Dental Hygienist do?

When you go to the dentist, you are typically greeted by someone in a mask who wants to look at your teeth.

This would be your Dental Hygienist.

He or she will exam all of your teeth and make sure that they are healthy.

They’ll also clean your teeth and prepare them for the dentist.

It’s also possible that a Dental Hygienist will work with the dentist in order to make sure your teeth look great.

Q. How long does it take to become a Dental Hygienist?

It can take between two and four years to become a Dental Hygienist.

That is, if you want to earn an Associates’ degree, it will take around two years to complete.

If you decide that you’d like to earn a Bachelors’s degree instead, that will take another two years to complete.

This means that it can take anywhere from two years to four years to become a Dental Hygienist.

Many employers only require an Associates’ degree, though.

Q. Is there a demand for Dental Hygienists?

Now more than ever, there is a demand for Dental Hygienists.

Many job openings are popping up all over the country, and the reason for that is the connection between oral health and overall health.

Plus, the baby boomer population is aging, and they require more dental work now than before.

This career will not cease any time soon, so if you are looking for a stepping stone into a great career, now is your time.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Dental Hygienist?

Most Associates degrees cost around $10,000 to complete.

This depends on where you go to school, of course, as many community colleges and universities can cost more than dental schools.

If you are looking to earn a Bachelors’s degree, that can cost around $15,000 to $30,000.

Those that want a Master’s degree can expect to pay another $35,000.

This means that it can cost between $10,000 and $60,000 to become a Dental Hygienist.


Dental Hygienist Information by State


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