Choose My Major: Dental Hygiene

Dental Hygienist and patient So you want to be a dental hygienist?
Great! This is a fulfilling, challenging job that is always in demand, so let’s get started with putting you on the path to get there.

Career Opportunities:
Dental hygienists have a very low unemployment rate of 2.8% according to and they can make on average $70K per year, which is really terrific.

What Does the Job Involve?
Where dentists are primarily concerned with diagnosing and treating dental conditions, dental hygienists focus on preventative maintenance and patient education.  Hygienists communicate to patients the best ways to brush and floss and protect their dental health.  Hygienists hope that through their education and encouragement, patients can improve their own dental hygiene and avoid dental problems.

Required Education: 
Students can practice after earning an Associate’s Degree (AA) in Dental Hygiene, which takes two years, and which grants you a Registered Dental Hygienist certificate after you pass your exams.  These exams include: successful completion of the written National Dental Hygiene Board examination, a state or regional clinical examination and a state jurisprudence and ethics examination.

Be sure you attend and graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program and that the program grants a license that is recognized in the state where you want to practice.

More and more students are also choosing to pursue a four year Bachelor’s degree (BA) in Dental Hygiene and some are even continuing on to earn a two or three year Master’s degree (MA) past that.  In recent years there has been discussion of forming a doctoral program for this developing career.

Advice about Applying:toothbrushes
Try to do well in your science courses in high school, and try to keep your GPA as high as you personally can.
When you design your college list, be sure to include Safety, Match and Reach schools so that you are sure you will be accepted at some of your schools.  Be sure that each college offers the AA or BA in Dental Hygiene and that the program is accredited and licensed by your state. 

Continuing Education:
Dental hygienists who earn a two year Associate’s degree (AA) can then pursue a Bachelor’s degree (BA) for two more years through degree completion programs that are specifically designed for dental hygienists. Many of these programs are offered either full-time or part-time and some even have online or distance education opportunities. It is also good to note that dental hygienists who have completed a BA degree can pursue a graduate degree in dental hygiene (MA), and hygienists with advanced degrees will always have broader and more numerous opportunities for careers.

Hands-on Experience:
Be sure that you seek out practical experience such as an internship in an actual dentist’s office.  This is really important in getting hired full time at a practice, and you may even get hired at the practice where you intern, so do your best every day.  You may have to intern for a full year, as many dentists’ office seek to hire hygienists with at least a year of experience, though this is not always the case.  All employers will want to see evidence of a great “bedside manner” with patients since many people are frightened of going to the dentist.

You can show evidence of this by volunteering to do dental health presentations in your local community, such as at schools and community centers.This is a great career path with exciting options and lots of ways to move up in your career or even change tracks slightly, so there are lots of options in your future.  Best of luck to you as you follow this exciting path!

This is a great career path with exciting options and lots of ways to move up in your career or even change tracks slightly, so there are lots of options in your future.  Best of luck to you as you follow this exciting path!

Recommended Resources:
American Dental Hygienists’ Association website.

The website will show you which programs are accredited in your area, which is very important.
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