How To Become a Dental Hygienist

dental hygienists

Dental Hygienists ensure the good oral health of the gums and teeth of adults and children. They take x-rays, clean and polish teeth, work closely with the Dentist, and keep patient records up-to-date. But, is it the right career for you?

Let’s be honest, here… You may or may not have fond memories of the Dental Hygienist you grew up going to. Some people enjoy going to the Dentist and some have had very traumatic experiences. With today’s technology and extensive training, you can learn the most up-to-date and innovative techniques in the field… to make it easy on your patients!

Earning an Associate degree in Dental Hygiene will provide you with many job opportunities directly after completion of your degree program. Typically, those who only have a certificate in the field do not enjoy the pay that degree holders earn. An associate degree is the most common degree to have in the field of Dental Hygiene and will allow you to take advanced coursework through a bachelor’s program if so desired.

Here, we answer your burning questions about what you can expect if you decide to pursue a career as a Dental Hygienist. Plus, we review a few quality schools to consider. At times, the coursework may be tough, but the benefits will outweigh the struggles! Take a look!

Related Article: The 40 Highest Paying Jobs With A Trade School Education


What does a Dental Hygienist do?

Dental Hygienists are tasked with informing patients about good oral healthcare. They remove plaque, tartar, and stains from teeth as they clean them. They instruct patients on how to properly brush and floss their teeth, as well as take, process, and report findings of dental x-rays. You’ll use several types of small hand tools to perform your job, ranging from scraping picks to ultrasonic instruments. Typically, they work under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

Do Dental Hygienists get paid well?

The BLS reports that the average yearly salary for a Dental Hygienist, as of May 2020, was $77,090, while the highest 10% earned upwards of $104,420 per year, depending on experience. 

Is the field of Dental Hygiene growing?

Yes, the projected job growth rate is positive at a 6% increase between 2019 and 2029, primarily due to the aging population. Recent studies have linked the correlation between good oral health and good general health conditions, making it a priority for many.  

What kind of degree do I need to become a Dental Hygienist?

If you aspire to become a Dental Hygienist at a young age, you can start preparing in high school by focusing on chemistry, biology, and math classes. These will prepare you for your next step!

Becoming a Dental Hygienist requires you to have an associate degree, at the very least. Often, you can locate a reputable Dental Hygiene school at your local community college or vocational school. 

The Associate of Science (AS) or an Associate of Arts (AA) degree will prepare you for your career as a Dental Hygienist. In addition, if you would like to earn your bachelor’s degree, your credits should be easily transferred. 

If you earn an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree, you may not be able to transfer credits into a bachelor’s degree… so, anticipate your end goal while deciding on a program that’s right for you!

Should my Dental Hygiene program be accredited?

Yes, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) regulates the quality of dental education programs. 

How many years does it take to be a Dental Hygienist?

Generally, your Dental Hygiene associate degree program will take 2 – 3 years to complete.

What will I learn in a Dental Hygienist program?

Naturally, your career will focus on the oral health of your patients; therefore, learning the safest and most productive way to care for them will be of great concern. In a quality Dental Hygiene degree program… you will know just that, and much more! 

Coursework will also involve microbiology, radiography, oral pathology, nutrition, pharmacology, immunology, anatomy, and much more. You will also participate in laboratory and clinical studies. 

Will I need to be licensed to be a Dental Hygienist?

Yes, Dental Hygienists must be properly licensed according to each state’s requirements. Your degree program (if properly accredited by CODA), will prepare you to take the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. After receiving your license, you will be a Registered Dental Hygienist and can use “R.D.H.” after your name! 

Can a male be a Dental Hygienist?

Yes, of course, although the field is dominated by females at 98%. Men can certainly become Dental Hygienists if they choose to. But, on the flip side, you also may have noticed that most dentists are males; however, that is changing, too! There has been an increase recently in the number of women furthering their training to become dentists.

How is a Dental Hygienist different from a Dental Assistant?

While a Dental Hygienist cleans teeth, the Dental Assistant performs dental-related tasks by assisting the Dentist. They also perform clinical administrative duties. Dental Hygienists are generally paid more than Dental Assistants… just in case you were wondering! 

Can I earn an Associate degree as a Dental Hygienist online?

Yes, depending on your program, your coursework can often be completed online; however, clinical and hands-on experience will be required on-campus, in most cases. 


Let us help you find the best Dental Hygienist school program that fits your educational requirements for starting a new career, a job promotion, or simply meeting your personal goals. Our researchers at utilize these indicators of excellent academic standards to locate exceptional Dental Hygienist school programs designed just for you. 

The following schools are listed in random order. As each and every school displays its own unique qualities and strengths, you should search our list based on your needs and career aspirations.

The following factors were considered: 

  • Offers on-campus, online, or hybrid classes for flexible or convenient attendance without compromising hands-on training,
  • Exhibits rigorous, yet engaging and innovative training in the field of Dental Hygienist coursework that takes into account the readiness of students in taking the next step to their budding career,
  • Taught by outstanding faculty consisting of experts in the field of Dental Hygiene,
  • Held in high esteem among academic agencies, industry organizations, and journalistic resources,
  • Displays stellar reviews and feedback from school alumni and students,
  • Offers a convenient application process,
  • Provides exceptional Student Career Centers, Resource Departments, and easy-to-use Learning Management Systems, where applicable, 
  • Ensures the proper Accreditation in accordance with academic standards in the field of Dental Hygiene.

If you would like to learn more about our selection process, please see our Methodology page! 

The Best 5 Dental Hygienist Schools

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University of Pittsburgh

AS Degree in Dental Hygiene

The University of Pittsburgh offers an Associate of Science degree in Dental Hygiene program that is designed to prepare the graduate to begin a career as a Dental Hygienist. The program lasts two years, with a focus on health sciences, introduction to dental hygiene, dental anatomy, pharmacology, and dental hygiene services, such as teeth cleaning, oral prophylaxis, applying dental sealants, periodontal scaling, and much more.  

If you are interested, you will need to have completed 15 hours of “shadowing” another practicing Dental Hygienist before applying to the program. The University of Pittsburgh also offers a Bachelor’s degree completion program in Dental Hygiene, too, if you wish to continue your education.

Programs offered:

  • Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene
  • Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene

Take a look at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine’s Associate of Science degree in Dental Hygiene program today!

Western Kentucky University

Western Kentucky University

AS Degree in Dental Hygiene

Western Kentucky University’s Associate of Science degree program in Dental Hygiene enables students to efficiently serve their community as they practice as a Dental Hygienist in a general dentistry practice, public health facility or school, as well as in hospitals, clinics, in the military, or a specialty clinic. 

You will focus on oral anatomy, dental pharmacology, preventive dental hygiene care, dental radiology, pain control, and community health, among other pertinent topics. 

Programs offered: 

  • Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene Completion Degree

Enrollment is limited, so apply to Western Kentucky University’s Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene degree program today!

Shoreline Community College

Shoreline Community College 

Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences in Dental Hygiene

Located in Shoreline, WA, the Shoreline Community College will prepare you for a career as a Dental Hygienist. You’ll gain knowledge and practical skills through coursework and clinical training as you learn how to perform screenings, develop x-rays, counsel patients on good oral practices, and study head and neck anatomy, and much more. 

At Shoreline Community College, you can prepare for a career in a public health facility, private dental practice, nursing home, hospital, or clinic. 

Program offered: 

  • Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences in Dental Hygiene

Would you like to learn more about Shoreline Community College’s AAAS in Dental Hygiene program? Take a look! 

Santa Rosa Junior College - 'Safety Stroll' Identifies some concerns -  GuardNet

Santa Rosa Junior College

AS Degree in Dental Hygiene

Santa Rosa Junior College, located in Santa Rosa, CA, will prepare you to apply your skills and knowledge to your patient’s excellent oral healthcare. This CODA accredited school focuses on quality education and their dental program has been in existence since 1999 with exceptional results. 

The Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene program from SRJC will prepare you to sit for the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. Their comprehensive coursework includes a scientific-based and challenging approach to learning by incorporating critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving into their curriculum of Dental Hygiene.

Program offered: 

  • Associate of Science Degree in Dental Hygiene

Need more information? See Santa Rosa Junior College’s Associate of Science Degree in Dental Hygiene program today!

Health Care Degrees & Certificates at Carrington College

Carrington College

Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene

Carrington College offers an Associate degree in Dental Hygiene that can be completed within two years. Their dental program is offered in Arizona, Idaho, and two locations in California. In addition, you will be prepared to sit for your licensure examination upon completion. 

Coursework focuses on comprehensive classes designed to inform students about dental hygiene care, as you learn excellent communication skills, as well as ethical standards. You will learn how to take x-rays, remove plaque and stains, update patient records, educate patients about their oral hygiene, along with conducting research to maintain the betterment of oral health. They also offer hands-on training.

Programs offered: 

  • Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene
  • Denal Assisting

Learn more about Carrington College’s Associate degree program in Dental Hygiene.

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Malcolm Peralty
Chief Editor