Career Bites: How to Become a Dental Hygienist
If you haven’t noticed, we’re pretty into the world of dental hygiene. In fact, making it easier than ever to connect dental hygienists with dental offices is kind of our thing.
So if you’re here, chances are you’re also pretty into dentistry. (If you really want to nerd out, we wrote an entire post all about the history of the dental profession.)
But maybe you stumbled here because you’re curious about the dental industry, and are considering a career as a dental hygienist. Where do you get started? What does it take? Is there some sort of secret permanent record that keeps tracks of how many cavities you’ve had, and will be shared with any possible employers?
(We’ll go ahead and address that last one upfront: No.)
If you’re eager to learn the ‘tooth’, keep reading for an overview of the education and experience required to become a dental hygienist.
First things first. What does a dental hygienist actually do?
It’s so much more than just cleaning teeth.
Yes, they provide preventative oral care under a dentist's supervision. They also clean patients' teeth and examine their mouths for signs of damage, gingivitis, and other diseases. But just as important, hygienists teach patients how to maintain good oral health, and have a crucial role in making sure patients feel safe and comfortable.
You’re not too cool for school. You’re just cool enough!
An associates degree in Dental Hygiene is the minimum for getting your license. There are also bachelor’s and master's programs, but those are less common. Although it would be pretty cool to be a MASTER dental hygienist.
- An associates degree is the most common path for dental hygienists, and typically takes two years to earn.
- A bachelor’s degree is a great option for dental hygienists who are interested in more specialized care, like practicing or developing programs within public health or school settings. Like most bachelor programs, it typically takes 4 years to complete, but can be earned in less time if you already have your associate’s degree.
- A master’s degree is the macdaddy of dental hygiene degrees, and is perfect for those looking for higher-level careers, like oral disease prevention specialists, community program directors, or leaders of dental health and education programs. This degree takes an additional 1-2 years to earn, and requires a completion of a Capstone project.
Not all colleges and universities offer degrees in dental hygiene
But there are many that do. Because the world appreciates professionals who help us prevent cavities and practice good oral hygiene!
Here’s a list from the ADHA of schools that offer entry level programs by state. If you’re feeling zealous and thinking about shooting for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene, learn more about all levels of available programs here.
No matter which path or level or program you choose, it must be approved by the Commission of Dental Accreditation (or CODA.)
So you’ve earned your degree...now what?
You’re almost there. Once you graduate from an accredited program, it’s time to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, a test that consists of 350 multiple-choice questions. The test is scored on a scale of 49–99, with 75 being the minimum score for passing. But you’ve studied your hiney off so you’re going to ace it.
Once you’ve aced your national exam, you’re so close — you’ve got to get licensed in the state you want to work. Each state has its own clinical-based exam, which tests knowledge of basic hygiene procedures, anesthesia, and restorative techniques. Learn more about getting licensed in North Carolina here.
And there you have it: The journey to becoming a dental hygienist. Once you’re licensed and ready to kick off your career, consider joining Biteline as an easy way to get connected with dental offices near you looking to hire eager, talented hygienists like yourself.
Now go get ‘em, tiger.
Read more fun facts, expert advice, and dental industry news on the Biteline blog.
And don't forget to share with your dental friends!