Dental hygienists are vital members of their patients’ dental care team. From providing health screenings to removing plaque, to educating patients on oral hygiene, dental hygienists truly make a positive difference in their patients’ lives. They’re also frequently the person that patients spend most time with during their dentist visits. Many dental hygienists find the one-on-one nature of their job to be fulfilling and enriching. They have the chance to meet people from all backgrounds, hear their stories, and build relationships with patients.
While this may be enough to draw you to the field, you may be pleased to learn that employment in dental hygiene is expected to grow by 6% by 2029. Not only is the demand for dental services going to increase, but the job itself is rewarding and challenging. With this knowledge, you may find yourself asking, “How can I become a dental hygienist?” or even, “What kind of dental hygiene degrees exist?” Here are three degree paths to consider if a career as a dental hygienist interests you.
1. Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene
The associate degree in Dental Hygiene is the shortest path to become a dental hygienist today, and provides students with the knowledge and experience they’ll need to become successful in the field. Typically, this degree takes about three years to complete.
Students in the associate degree in Dental Hygiene program are required to complete general education and science prerequisites such as courses in anatomy, microbiology, and chemistry. In addition to these classes, dental hygiene students must take program-specific courses. These include:
- Oral Anatomy and Embryology
- Dental Public Health
- Dental Materials
In addition to these required courses, students will take classes in clinical settings. Additionally, some programs (including University of Bridgeport’s AS Dental Hygiene program) require students to participate in community outreach, treatment, and education, all while under the supervision of licensed dental hygienists. This helps them apply their learned skills to practice, and gain experience working directly in the field.
Aspiring dental hygienists must earn at least an associate degree in order to be eligible to take their board licensing exams. Upon passing this exam, they’ll become a Registered Dental Hygienist (R.D.H.). This license is a requirement in all fifty states. Once they are licensed, dental hygienists can earn, on average, a salary of between $65,000 and $77,330 per year, depending on the dental practice and level of experience. Students may also decide to broaden their resume and career opportunities by receiving training in business administration or public health.
2. Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygiene
A bachelor in Dental Hygiene combines the requirements of an associate degree with bachelor’s degree curriculum. Students who have already earned an associate degree may be eligible to complete a bachelor’s degree with only two additional years of study. A bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene also provides students with the opportunity to minor in a variety of areas such as human services, education, marketing, or psychology, among others. These minors can be leveraged towards a more versatile career path.
Students in a bachelor’s degree program are required to complete a variety of general education requirements such as courses in the humanities and a capstone seminar. Additionally, students are required to take career-specific courses such as:
- Dental Hygiene Research
- Dental Hygiene Practice Management
- General and Oral Histo-Pathology
- Local Anesthesia
While enrolled in their bachelor’s program, students will also enroll in an internship that will allow them to apply their studies in a professional setting. Students will select an alternative practice setting in which to hone their skills.
A four-year degree provides graduates with a variety of job opportunities. With a bachelor’s degree, students can work as dental office managers as well as dental hygiene educators. Additionally, a bachelor’s degree opens students up to the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in Dental Hygiene.
3. Master of Science Degree in Dental Hygiene
Though a master’s degree isn’t necessary in order to work as a licensed hygienist, current, licensed dental hygienists who are interested in leadership or educator careers should consider entering the master’s program in Dental Hygiene.
A master’s degree in Dental Hygiene is a two-year program that prepares students for leadership and educational roles in the field. This program includes courses such as:
- Grant and Contract Writing
- Statistical Reasoning
- Global Healthcare
- Public Health
- Dental Hygiene Student Teaching
- Clinical and Didactic Educational Concepts
For those interested in becoming educators, master’s degree students may also participate in student-teaching placements during their dental hygiene program.
Graduates of a master’s in Dental Hygiene program can continue to work as dental hygienists. However, they’ll also be equipped with the experience and skills they’ll need to work as dental hygiene educators. They’ll be qualified to teach students in associate or bachelor’s degree programs. They may also work with community programs and government agencies to teach the public about the benefits of good oral hygiene.
Pursuing a Dental Hygiene Degree
Working in the field of dental hygiene is rewarding as well as challenging. There are three dental hygiene degrees to explore, all with their own benefits. An associate degree prepares students to immediately enter the field as dental hygienists. A bachelor’s degree can open up additional career opportunities for dental hygienists in expanded fields. A master’s degree allows dental hygienists to become leaders and educators to the next generation of dental hygiene professionals. Whichever path you choose, there is a degree option for you.
University of Bridgeport is home to the world’s first Dental Hygiene School. Visit us online today to learn more.