Dental hygienists are important members of all dental care teams. Specialists in preventive oral care, they clean teeth, apply protective sealants and teach patients how diet can affect oral care. The requirements dental hygienists must meet in order to work in the field will vary by state, but many courses they take will overlap. Following is a general overview of what dental hygiene students can expect.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), an associate degree in dental hygiene is the minimum requirement to take the licensure examination. The degrees are available at certain technical and community colleges, universities and dental schools. Universities may also have bachelor's and/or master's degrees, which enhance teaching and research opportunities.
Some programs prefer students who have completed at least one year of college, but that’s not a requirement. However, certain community college programs may require courses in anatomy and physiology, communications or chemistry for admission. Dental hygienist programs themselves will cover dental anatomy, pharmacology, biomaterials and periodontics. While all important subjects will be covered as part of the program, students who take courses such as health, psychology, biology, chemistry, math and speech to enhance their skills in high school may find that beneficial.
Receiving an associate degree from an ADA-accredited program is all that’s required to take the exams. Most states require passing a state exam in addition to a national exam, while others may only want one or the other. In either case, the program will prepare you for both exams.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobs outlook for dental hygienists continues to rise faster than the average for all jobs (20% through 2026). That is a national average that may not apply specifically to your community or state…but it does reflect the demand as the population ages and more people are seeking oral preventive care.
Dental hygienists may take tests in different states to get certified if they plan to move; however, additional course requirements may be required to become certified, such as psychology, interpersonal relations and even physics. The ADA or state certification board can provide more information about state-specific dental hygienist requirements. A dental hygienist program offers a great opening into the dental field that leads to long, satisfying careers.
For those thinking about careers in dental hygiene, they should consider their hand dexterity, compassion for patients as well as being detail oriented – traits that are important in the profession.