A Guide to Dental Hygienist Schools

Knowing where to start is imperative in becoming a successful dental hygienist. The career path to become a hygienist can be relatively short if you opt for a certificate or associate’s degree. In fact, both of these credentials can be earned in as little as 24 months; however, the involved educational studies are quite extensive, including many classroom lectures, internships and more.

The best place to begin your studies is your local community college if you’re seeking the most affordable tuition rates; however, if you prefer, there are many universities that make available dental hygienist degree curriculums, as well as online distance education programs.

During your studies, you will learn much in relation to dental procedures, oral anatomy and oral health. To help you choose the best school possible, there are some valuable factors that you need to take into consideration.

Comprehensive StudiesYou should choose a dental hygienist program that provides a comprehensive curriculum. This curriculum should include courses that cover the following topics:

  • Cavity prevention
  • Community oral health
  • Dental materials
  • Identification of oral diseases
  • Oral deformities
  • Oral and dental anatomy
  • Dental ethics
  • Nutrition
  • Oral pathology
  • Dental procedures
  • Hygienist equipment
  • And much more

Tuition RatesMost likely, one of the main things that will determine which dental hygienist school is best suited for you will be its tuition rates. If you will be paying for your studies out of your pocket, you will want to attend a school that has affordable rates, which you’ll generally find at local community colleges.

If you qualify for grants, scholarships and student loans, and don’t mind the hustle and bustle of a large university, you may want to consider going to a university – many major universities offer some type of dental hygienist program.

AccreditationThe most important thing you should look for when choosing a dental hygienist school is accreditation. Without accreditation, your degree or certificate will be of no value in the real world. There are over 300 dental hygienist programs in the US that are accredited and approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Degree OptionsWhen choosing a school, you need to assess any particular’s schools dental hygienist degree options. Some will offer certificate programs, associate level degrees, bachelor degrees and/or master’s programs.

While requirements will vary from state to state, an associate’s degree is generally the minimum required in order to work as a dental hygienist. However, a shorter certificate program may be an option if you have a previously completed an associate’s degree in a related health field and completed a certain minimum number of pre-requisite courses.

Whether you take a certificate program, associate level degree, or a bachelor degree, in most states there is no difference in terms of licensure, certification or salary. However, a bachelor’s degree may provide a wider range of employment opportunities if you eventually seek a promotion, further your education, or switch careers.

Degree Completion TimeAnother major factor you should consider when choosing a dental hygienist school is the length of any particular school’s programs, and the flexibility of the program. If you are looking to become a dental hygienist in a short amount of time, your quickest route will be to obtain a certificate (if you qualify) or associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Both of these credentials take about 15 to 24 months to earn. After earning either type of credential, you will then be able to sit for a licensing exam. If you need to work full-time or manage familial responsibilities during your studies, you also want to ensure access to part-time / online distance education options.

If have more time to devote to your studies, you should definitely consider earning a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. This type of degree takes about four years to earn; however, if you take summer classes, you can sometimes complete your studies in as little as 36 months.

If you want to teach dental hygiene or gain employment in a research position, you will need to further your studies to an even further level and earn a master’s degree. In addition to the four years that it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, you will have to complete two to three more years of studies to earn a master’s.

When comparing degree options, make sure you keep in mind that you will often need at least a bachelor’s if you want to work for a state government such as at a public middle school. This type of degree is also needed if you want to work at a health department.

Degree PrerequisitesNo matter which dental hygiene school you choose to complete your studies through, you will likely need a high school diploma (or equivalent) before enrolling in a dental hygienist program. Most schools will also require that you have a strong background in sciences and math.

If you are entering into a bachelor’s program, you may have to complete several general education courses beforehand. Lastly, before enrolling in a master’s program, you will have to first obtain a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene or a related field.