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How To Become a Dental Hygienist: A Guide to Education and Licensure

Concorde Staff

Concorde Staff

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Updated May 14, 2024. The information contained in this blog is current and accurate as of this date.
A dental hygienist performs a routine cleaning on young male patient.

The dental hygienist profession is on the rise and offers a career path for individuals who want to enter the dental career field. Those who meet specific requirements may qualify for this profession and receive education on various aspects of oral health. This comprehensive guide provides more information about how to become a dental hygienist for those considering whether to pursue this health care career.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Dental Hygienist?

Dental hygienists assess their patients' oral health by conducting cleanings and inspections. They also assist a dentist and work with patients to help them maintain good oral health by teaching them about proper oral hygiene. A dental hygienist has several primary responsibilities, which include the following:

  • Clean and remove plaque, tartar, and stains from patients' teeth.
  • Perform and develop dental X-rays.
  • Conduct preliminary patient exams and assist dentists as needed.
  • Administer local anesthetics to patients before their procedures.
  • Apply fluorides and sealants to a patient's teeth.
  • Document patient treatment plans and overall care.
  • Assess a patient's oral health.
  • Educate patients on good oral hygiene.
  • Communicate with dentists regarding dental findings on their patients.
  • Use various hand, power, and ultrasonic tools to perform their duties.

How To Choose a Dental Hygiene Program

An appropriate dental hygiene program should prepare prospective dental hygienist candidates for daily duties. Selecting an accredited school is essential to become familiar with the profession. When choosing a dental hygienist program, a person should consider the following:

Accreditation

Dental hygienists must enroll in and complete an accredited dental hygienist program. An accredited program is a program that the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) has officially recognized or authorized. It is the only agency that the United States Department of Education has approved to accredit dental hygienist programs .

Types

An individual may consider one of the following types of CODA-accredited programs for dental hygienists:

  • Entry-level: This program track is for students with no experience in the field. The program levels include associate degree programs, baccalaureate degree programs, and post-baccalaureate degree programs.
  • Degree completion: This program track is for licensed dental hygienists who want to advance their education beyond the entry-level program. Individuals who have obtained a certificate or associate degree in the field may also qualify for this program that grants a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene or a similar field.

Length

The length of a dental hygienist program depends on the type of institution and the degree itself. For example, Concorde offers a dental hygienist program that takes 17 to 22 months to complete, depending on the campus location, while a bachelor's degree in this field takes about four years.

 

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An associate degree is the minimum requirement to become a dental hygienist. A two-year program may allow prospective dental hygienists to enter the career field more quickly than they would with a bachelor's degree.

Admission Requirements for a Dental Hygiene Program

Admission requirements for a dental hygiene program may vary depending on the program itself. Some common prerequisites for gaining admittance into a dental hygiene program include the following:

  • High school courses: Although not required, high school courses in health, biology, mathematics, chemistry, and psychology may help provide foundational knowledge to earn admittance into a dental hygiene program.
  • Skills: Prospective dental hygienists should have problem-solving skills, manual dexterity, the ability to pay close attention to detail, communication and interpersonal skills, compassion, and technical abilities.
  • GPA requirements: Some programs have specific GPA requirements, which vary based on the institution.

Unlike degree completion programs, entry-level programs do not require prior education in this field. The following tips may help a prospective dental hygienist student prepare for admittance into a dental hygiene program:

  • Research the prerequisites: A prospective student must research the prerequisites to meet the qualifications.
  • Draft a strong personal statement: A strong personal statement should detail intentions and career goals while setting a student apart from other candidates.
  • Maintain professionalism during the interview: For programs that require an interview, a candidate should dress appropriately, turn off their phone, and actively engage with the interviewer.

What To Expect in a Dental Hygiene Program

Dental Hygiene Program student administers local anesthetic to patient under instructor supervision.


3 Things To Consider Before Becoming a Dental Hygienist

Many programs cover general education, biomedical science, dental science, and dental hygiene science content. Coursework typically focuses on oral health, dental software, tools, machines, radiology, pain management, infection control, and other related topics. These programs also help a person to develop interpersonal and communication skills.

Associate Degree Programs

Along with general coursework in oral health, programs that offer a dental hygiene associate degree require supervised clinical experience. This coursework usually involves hands-on practice to gain clinical experience in a dental setting.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

The length of a bachelor's degree program depends on the type of institution. Students who enter the program with an associate degree may expect a shortened time frame. This program type is for dental hygienists who want to study specialized care. Some four-year program topics may include dental health theory and dental conditions.

Licensure Exam Requirements

Students taking a test


The Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE), an agency of the American Dental Association (ADA), administers the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE), which prospective dental hygienists must take to obtain licensure . A person interested in dental hygiene should study the following information regarding the NBDHE:

  • Application requirements: They may register for a dental personal identifier number (DENTPIN) to apply for each part of the test. The JCNDE also requires test takers to have graduated from a CODA-accredited program.
  • Test material: The exam comprises 350 questions and focuses on dental hygiene practice, clinical services, community health and research principles, and case-based items. This test considers a person's knowledge in various dental health areas, such as using preventive decay agents, interpreting radiographs, and managing dental hygiene care.
  • Preparation materials: The JCNDE provides preparation materials for the exam, including tutorials, practice tests, and reference texts.
  • Results and audit requests: A DENTPIN allows a person to view results on the ADA's website. To get an audit request, a person may log in with their DENTPIN, follow the audit request instructions, and pay the fee.

Dental Hygienist Requirements

A dental hygienist wearing scrubs in dental office confidently smiles at the camera.

 

Dental hygienists must have an associate degree in dental hygiene and state licensure. The licensure requirements for dental hygienists vary by state, although these requirements have a common goal for the licensure process. Each state's licensure process ensures dental hygienists meet professional standards and maintain patient safety.

Primary Requirements

The final authority on state licensure requirements is the state itself. However, applicants typically meet three main requirements regardless of the state that issues their license:

  • Education requirement: Dental hygienists need a minimum of an associate degree to become licensed to practice.
  • Written examination: Licensing jurisdictions in the United States require documentation or evidence that candidates have passed the NBDHE.
  • Clinical examination: Many licensing jurisdictions have a clinical requirement. In addition, many state boards of dentistry use a regional testing agency to administer this examination.

Alternative Paths to Licensure

Some states offer alternative paths to licensure. For further information, a person can contact the specific state board and request information regarding the applicable requirements for alternative paths to licensure .

Limitations

The state board of dentistry is responsible for dentistry practice within each state. The state legislature places limitations on the board's authority. Its authority often includes the following:

  • Establishment of licensure qualifications.
  • Issuance of licenses to qualified applicants.
  • Establishment of standards for practice and conduct.
  • Taking disciplinary action against individuals with misconduct in the profession.
  • Promulgation of rules that apply to individuals who practice in the profession.

Finding a Job as a Dental Hygienist

After completing their education, dental hygienists may work to secure a job in their field. Emphasizing the qualifications that set them apart from other job candidates may help them further their career. Some important skills to include on a dental hygienist resume include dentistry expertise, patience, communication skills, interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and dexterity. Individuals may also describe their relevant work experience, including hands-on training and supervised clinical experience.

The dental hygiene profession is experiencing faster than average job growth, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics . Job prospects will vary based on a person's location and employer.

Becoming a dental hygienist may be a fulfilling career for those passionate about the job or who want to enter the dental field with minimal education. To obtain a job in this profession, a person must meet the necessary educational and licensure requirements before helping patients of all ages. At Concorde, you have the opportunity to train for a career as a dental hygienist and prepare to take the licensure exam in as little as 17 to 22 months. Reach out for more information and take the first step in pursuing this health care career.

  1. "About CODA," Commission on Dental Accreditation, https://coda.ada.org/about-coda

  2. "National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE)," Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations, https://jcnde.ada.org/nbdhe

  3. "State Board Contact," American Association of Dental Boards, https://www.dentalboards.org/state-board-list

  4. "Dental Hygienists," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-6

Take The Next Step Towards a Brighter Future

Interested in learning more about our Dental Hygiene program? We have a Concorde representative ready to talk about what matters most to you. Get answers about start dates, curriculum, financial aid, scholarships and more!

  1. Program length may be subject to change dependent on transfer credits and course load. Please refer to current course catalog for more information. Concorde does not guarantee admittance, graduation, subsequent employment or salary amount.

  2. Professional certification is not a requirement for graduation, may not be a requirement for employment nor does it guarantee employment.

  3. Financial aid is available to those who qualify but may not be available for all programs. Concorde does not guarantee financial aid or scholarship awards or amounts.

  4. Clinical hour requirements and delivery may vary by campus location and may be subject to change. Concorde does not guarantee clinical site assignments based upon student preference or geographic convenience; nor do clinical experiences guarantee graduation, post-clinical employment or salary outcomes.

  5. Registration and certification requirements for taking and passing these examinations are not controlled by Concorde, but by outside agencies, and are subject to change by the agency without notice. Therefore, Concorde cannot guarantee that graduates will be eligible to take these exams, at all or at any specific time, regardless of their eligibility status upon enrollment.