Education and Testing Requirements
Dental hygienists receive their education through academic programs at community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools or universities. The majority of community college programs take at least two years to complete, with graduates receiving associate degrees. Receipt of this degree allows a hygienist to take licensure examinations (national and state or regional), become licensed and to work in a dental office.
University-based dental hygiene programs may offer baccalaureate and master's degrees, which generally require at least two years of further schooling. These additional degrees may be required for a career in teaching and/or research, as well as for clinical practice in school or public health programs.
Dental hygiene program admission requirements vary depending upon the specific school. High school-level courses such as health, biology, psychology, chemistry, mathematics and speech will be beneficial in a dental hygiene career. Most programs show a preference for individuals who have completed at least one year of college. Some baccalaureate degree programs require that applicants complete two years of college prior to enrollment in the dental hygiene program. Contact the particular dental hygiene program of interest to you for specific program requirements.
Dental hygiene education programs offer clinical education in the form of supervised patient care experiences. Additionally, these programs include courses in liberal arts (e.g., English, speech, sociology and psychology); basic sciences (e.g., anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, immunology, chemistry, microbiology and pathology); and clinical sciences (e.g., dental hygiene, radiology and dental materials). After completion of a dental hygiene program, dental hygienists can choose to pursue additional training in such areas as education, business administration, basic sciences, marketing and public health.
The Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association is responsible for accrediting dental hygiene education programs. There are approximately 270 commission-accredited dental hygiene programs in the United States.
Dental hygienists are licensed by each state to provide dental hygiene care and patient education. Almost all states require that dental hygienists be graduates of commission-accredited dental hygiene education programs to be eligible for state licensure. And, almost all states require candidates for licensure to obtain a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (a comprehensive written examination) in addition to passing the state-authorized licensure examination. The state or regional examination tests candidates' clinical dental hygiene skills as well as their knowledge of dental hygiene and related subjects.
Upon receipt of their license, dental hygienists may use "R.D.H." after their names to signify recognition by the state that they are a Registered Dental Hygienist.