difference between dental hygiene as and bs

What is the Difference Between a Dental Hygiene AS and a Dental Hygiene BS Degree?

From competitive wages to schedule flexibility, there are a number of reasons why students may be drawn to a career in dental hygiene. Dental hygienists are the backbone of every dental practice and, in many cases, spend more time with patients than even dentists do. For this reason, they’re very much in demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in dental hygiene will increase by 11% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the national average for other careers.

If a career in dental hygiene is of interest to you, you may find yourself wondering what it takes to become a dental hygienist and whether you should pursue a Dental Hygiene AS or Dental Hygiene BS. In fact, you may be wondering what the difference between a Dental Hygiene AS and BS even is! Here is your brief guide to the two degree paths, so that you can make the best choice for your career goals.

Dental Hygiene Associate Degree (AS)

An associate degree in Dental Hygiene is a two-year program consisting of both general education coursework as well as career-specific classes. This degree prepares graduates to sit for licensing exams. Passing this exam is compulsory in order to become a Registered Dental Hygienist (R.D.H.). This license is a requirement in all fifty states.


The coursework for an associate degree in Dental Hygiene can depend on the dental school. At University of Bridgeport, students must take 27 credit hours of general education classes. These include courses in Anatomy, Composition and Rhetoric, Algebra, and more. In addition to these general education credits, students must take Dental Hygiene coursework. These classes can include:

  • Oral Anatomy
  • Nutritional Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Local Anesthesia

In addition, students take Clinical Practice credits that prepare them for working in the field. At University of Bridgeport, students work with supervisors to provide clinical treatment services in community outreach sites, including the Norwalk Hospital Dental Clinic, Southwest Community Health Center, and more.

Time Commitment

An associate degree in Dental Hygiene takes, on average, two years to complete. Graduates of Dental Hygiene AS programs may decide to continue their studies by pursuing a bachelor’s degree. However, it is entirely possible to enter a career in dental hygiene with an associate degree.

Career Paths and Salary Potential

Upon earning their degree and passing licensure exams, graduates of AS degree programs can work in clinical practices as dental hygienists. Those who hold an associate degree can earn a median annual salary of between $72,045 and $77,649. Salary and benefits can depend on experience as well as the employer.

Dental Hygiene Bachelor’s Degree (BS)

A bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene is a four-year program offered through a university’s dental school. It shares many of the same requirements of an associate degree. However, the BS program is differentiated from an associate degree by its additional coursework. Unlike an associate program, a bachelor’s allows students to take courses to support a minor. Coursework taken in a bachelor’s program prepares students to sit for the licensing exams they’ll need to pass to work as a dental hygienist. Additionally, a student’s minor and other supporting coursework can prepare them to pursue graduate study as well as advanced job opportunities in the field.


The Dental Hygiene BS curriculum can vary from school to school. At University of Bridgeport, students in the bachelor’s degree program are required to complete 50 hours of general education coursework. These classes may include English, Algebra, Sociology, and Biology. In addition to these general education credits, students must take courses to prepare them for a career as dental hygienists. These classes include:

  • Periodontology
  • Dental Public Health
  • Advanced Clinical Concepts
  • Dental Hygiene Practice Management
  • Nutritional Biochemistry
  • Principles of Marketing

In addition to these courses, students must seek out an internship and complete a capstone project.

Time Commitment

The dental hygiene bachelor’s degree requires four years of study. The first year of a bachelor’s degree includes pre-dental coursework while the following three years focus on clinical and pre-professional studies.

Career Paths and Salary Potential

With a bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene, a dental hygienist may work in a clinical setting. However, they also have the capability to work in managerial roles. They are able to manage medical services for a dental office or manage staff. They may also step away from clinical work and seek out educational positions. The median annual salary for a dental hygienist who holds a bachelor’s degree is similar to that of a dental hygienist who holds an associate degree. However, those who hold a bachelor’s can hold educator roles, which can pay well over $100,000 annually. The benefit of earning a bachelor’s degree truly is the ability to expand one’s employment horizons.

Providing exceptional patient care starts with receiving an excellent education. Depending on your career goals and aspirations, you may begin your career with an associate or a bachelor’s degree. If expediency is your priority, then perhaps beginning with a Dental Hygiene AS is the best fit. However, if your goals are to one day manage a dental practice or pursue graduate studies, a Dental Hygiene BS would be the right path to pursue. Whatever your choice, a career in dental hygiene awaits! All you need to do is take the first step.

University of Bridgeport is home to the world’s first Dental Hygiene School. Considering dental schools in CT? Visit us online today to learn more.