how to become a dental hygienist

How to Become a Dental Hygienist: Steps, Education & Tips

Are you interested in pursuing a career in dental hygiene? Becoming a dental hygienist can be a fulfilling and rewarding path, but it requires dedication and hard work. In this article, we will guide you through the steps and education necessary to become a dental hygienist, as well as provide valuable tips for succeeding in this field.

First, let’s explore the qualifications and requirements for becoming a dental hygienist. Dental hygienists typically need an associate degree in dental hygiene, although some programs offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees. In addition to completing a dental hygiene program, dental hygienists must also pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and any state-specific exams to obtain licensure.

As a dental hygienist, you will play an important role in helping patients maintain their oral health. You will work closely with dentists and other oral health professionals to perform teeth cleanings, identify and treat gum disease, and educate patients on proper oral hygiene practices. With the increasing emphasis on preventative care in dentistry, the demand for dental hygienists is expected to grow in the coming years.

Key Takeaways:

  • Becoming a dental hygienist requires completing a dental hygiene program and passing licensure exams.
  • Dental hygienists play an important role in providing preventative oral health care.
  • The demand for dental hygienists is expected to grow in the future.

Understanding the Role of a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists play a crucial role in oral health care. They work as part of the dental team, alongside dentists and dental assistants, to provide preventive and therapeutic care to patients. They are the first line of defense against oral diseases and help educate patients on proper oral hygiene practices.

Dental hygienists also perform a range of tasks that may include cleaning teeth, taking x-rays, administering anesthesia, and applying sealants and fluoride. They also assess patients’ overall oral health and make recommendations for treatment if necessary.

The Importance of Communication and Patient Interaction

One of the most important aspects of a dental hygienist’s job is effective communication and patient interaction. Patients may be nervous or fearful, and it is the dental hygienist’s job to provide reassurance and make the patient feel comfortable. Dental hygienists must also be skilled at explaining complex treatments and procedures to patients in a way that they can understand.

Ideally, a dental hygienist should be empathetic and able to build rapport with patients. They should be able to anticipate patients’ needs and address any concerns they may have. Good communication skills also help dental hygienists work effectively with the rest of the dental team to provide the best possible care to patients.

Dental Hygienist Education and Training

Becoming a dental hygienist requires specific education and training. The minimum educational requirement is an associate degree in dental hygiene from an accredited program. However, some employers may prefer or require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene for advanced roles.

Dental hygiene programs typically take two to four years to complete and coursework includes anatomy, physiology, radiography, pharmacology, and periodontics. Clinical experience is also a crucial component of dental hygiene education, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in providing oral health care services.

Degree Program Length
Associate degree 2-3 years
Bachelor’s degree 4 years
Master’s degree 1-2 years beyond a bachelor’s degree

In addition to completing a dental hygiene program, prospective dental hygienists must also pass a national written board examination and a clinical board examination. These exams assess the applicant’s knowledge and skills in dental hygiene, including clinical procedures, patient education, and ethical considerations.

Most states also require dental hygienists to obtain licensure by passing a state-specific exam or completing a certification process through the state dental board. It is important to check with your state’s licensing board for specific requirements and regulations.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is also an essential component of maintaining licensure and staying current in the field of dental hygiene. Dental hygienists must complete a certain number of continuing education hours every two to three years, depending on state requirements.

Continuing education courses can cover a range of topics, from new clinical techniques and technologies to updates in infection control and patient management. Specialization courses are also available for dental hygienists who want to focus on a specific area of oral health, such as periodontics or pediatric dentistry.

With the rapid advances in dental technology and research, continuing education is vital for dental hygienists to provide the best possible care to their patients.

Dental Hygienist Licensure and Certification

After completing the necessary education and training requirements, the next step in becoming a dental hygienist is obtaining a license. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed in order to practice, and the requirements vary by state.

The first step towards licensure is passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. This exam covers both clinical and written components and is required by all states. Additionally, many states have their own specific clinical exams that must be passed.

In addition to passing the exams, most states require dental hygienists to complete continuing education credits to maintain their license. These credits can be obtained through various means, such as attending conferences or completing online courses.

It is important to note that the requirements for licensure can change, so it’s crucial for dental hygienists to stay up-to-date on their state’s regulations.

Furthermore, certification is a voluntary process for dental hygienists who want to demonstrate their expertise in a particular area. The American Dental Association offers several certifications for dental hygienists, such as in areas like anesthesia or restorative functions. While certification is not required, it can make dental hygienists more marketable to potential employers and can also lead to higher pay in some cases.

Skills and Qualities for Dental Hygienists

Becoming a dental hygienist requires more than just completing a degree or program. It demands a unique set of skills and qualities to succeed in this career. Here are some essential skills and qualities that dental hygienists should possess:

  • Effective Communication: Dental hygienists must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with patients, educating them on proper oral hygiene and treatment options. They must also have excellent interpersonal skills to build trust and rapport with patients.
  • Attention to Detail: This career requires meticulous attention to detail, as dental hygienists must identify and document any issues or abnormalities in a patient’s oral health.
  • Manual Dexterity: Dental hygienists must have excellent hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity to perform delicate procedures and operate complex equipment.
  • Empathy: Providing quality care to patients requires a genuine sense of empathy and compassion. Dental hygienists must be able to address patients’ concerns and put them at ease during the appointment.
  • Physical Stamina: Dental hygienists often spend long hours on their feet, and may need to assist patients with mobility issues. Therefore, it is crucial to have the physical stamina to handle these demands.
  • Strong Ethics: Ethics are an integral part of the dental hygienist profession. Hygienists must adhere to professional codes of conduct, maintain patient confidentiality, and prioritize patient safety and well-being at all times.

By possessing these skills and qualities, dental hygienists can provide top-quality care to their patients and succeed in their careers.

Job Outlook and Salary for Dental Hygienists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for dental hygienists is projected to grow by 6% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by an increasing aging population that will require more dental services. Additionally, as research continues to link oral health to overall health, more people are recognizing the importance of preventative dental care, leading to an increased demand for dental hygienists.

As of May 2020, the median annual salary for dental hygienists was $77,090, with the lowest 10% earning less than $54,800 and the highest 10% earning more than $103,340. Salary levels can vary based on factors such as experience, geographic location, and type of employer.

Dental hygienists who work in specialty practices tend to earn higher salaries than those in general dentistry practices. Those who work in states with higher costs of living, such as California and New York, also tend to have higher salaries. In addition, dental hygienists who work full-time may have access to benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.

Tips for Succeeding as a Dental Hygienist

To excel as a dental hygienist, it’s important to develop a range of skills and qualities that go beyond technical expertise. Here are some tips for success in this rewarding career:

  • Stay up to date: Keep yourself informed about the latest developments in dental hygiene and oral health care. Attend conferences, read journals, and take continuing education classes to stay abreast of the latest research, techniques, and industry trends.
  • Focus on communication: Effective communication is key to building strong patient relationships and providing high-quality care. Listen actively, use clear and concise language, and be empathetic and patient-centered in your approach.
  • Develop good manual dexterity: As a dental hygienist, you’ll need to be confident and skilled in handling a range of dental instruments and tools. Practice your manual dexterity regularly to build up your speed, accuracy, and precision.
  • Network with peers: Building a strong professional network can help you stay connected to peers, learn from their experiences, and get support and advice when you need it. Join dental hygiene associations, attend industry events, and connect with colleagues on social media or professional platforms.
  • Be passionate about your work: Passion is a key driver of success in any career, and dental hygiene is no exception. Cultivate your passion for the profession by staying motivated, curious, and committed to providing excellent care for your patients.
  • Maintain a work-life balance: While dental hygiene can be a fulfilling and challenging profession, it’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Set boundaries, prioritize self-care, and make time for hobbies, family, and friends outside of work.

Dental Hygienist Education and Training

Becoming a dental hygienist requires a combination of education and training. In order to practice, one must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program and obtain a license from their state regulatory agency. There are several different educational pathways that can lead to a career as a dental hygienist.

Type of Program Description Duration
Certificate/Diploma Program These programs focus solely on dental hygiene coursework and clinical experience. 1-2 years
Associate Degree Program These programs combine dental hygiene coursework with general education requirements. 2-3 years
Bachelor’s Degree Program These programs provide a more comprehensive education in dental hygiene, along with broader knowledge in areas such as healthcare management, community health, and research. 4 years

Additionally, some dental hygienists choose to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees for specialized roles in education, research, or administration.

Most dental hygiene programs include both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience in a variety of dental settings. Coursework typically covers anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, radiology, and patient care, among other topics. In order to gain licensure, dental hygiene students must also complete a certain number of clinical hours and pass written and clinical exams.

Advanced Dental Hygiene Practice

Some states also offer licensure for Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioners (ADHPs), who have additional education and training to perform certain procedures, such as filling cavities and extracting primary teeth, without the supervision of a dentist. ADHPs require a graduate degree and additional certification.

Continuing education is a key aspect of maintaining licensure as a dental hygienist. Most states require a certain number of continuing education hours every licensing period to stay current on new developments and techniques in the field.

Challenges and Rewards of Being a Dental Hygienist

While being a dental hygienist is a rewarding profession, it is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is working with patients who may have dental anxiety or fear. It can be a struggle to keep patients calm and relaxed during procedures. Additionally, the job requires a high level of precision and attention to detail, which can be mentally and physically demanding.

Despite the challenges, being a dental hygienist also comes with many rewards. One of the greatest rewards is being able to help patients achieve better oral health and improve their quality of life. There is also the satisfaction of being part of a team that works together to provide comprehensive dental care to patients. Additionally, dental hygienists are in high demand and enjoy a stable career with a competitive salary.

For those who possess the necessary skills and qualities, being a dental hygienist can be a fulfilling and gratifying career choice.


Becoming a dental hygienist requires dedication, hard work, and continuous learning. By following the steps outlined in this article, individuals interested in pursuing this career can successfully navigate the education and training requirements. Additionally, by honing skills such as effective communication, attention to detail, and manual dexterity, dental hygienists can provide quality care to their patients.

While the road to becoming a dental hygienist may present challenges, the rewards of this career are significant. Not only is there a growing demand for dental hygienists, but the salary potential is also promising. Furthermore, by continually learning and pursuing advancement opportunities, dental hygienists can expand their skills and take on leadership roles within the field.

Overall, a successful career in dental hygiene requires passion, dedication, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Those who possess these qualities and are willing to put in the effort can enjoy a fulfilling career as a dental hygienist.


Q: How do I become a dental hygienist?

A: To become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete the necessary education and training. This typically includes earning a degree or certificate in dental hygiene from an accredited program, as well as passing the required licensing exams.

Q: What qualifications are needed to become a dental hygienist?

A: Dental hygienists are required to have a degree or certificate in dental hygiene from an accredited program. They must also obtain a license to practice, which involves passing the appropriate exams and meeting any state-specific requirements.

Q: What kind of education and training is involved in becoming a dental hygienist?

A: Aspiring dental hygienists must complete a dental hygiene program, which can result in a degree or certificate. These programs cover topics such as oral anatomy, periodontology, radiography, and clinical practice. Additionally, students may be required to complete supervised clinical experience.

Q: How do I obtain a license and certification as a dental hygienist?

A: To obtain a license as a dental hygienist, you will need to pass the required exams, such as the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and any state-specific exams. Certification may also be available through professional organizations, although it is not always a requirement for practice.

Q: What skills and qualities are important for dental hygienists?

A: Successful dental hygienists possess strong communication skills, attention to detail, manual dexterity, and empathy. They should be able to effectively educate and communicate with patients, as well as perform dental procedures with precision and care.

Q: What is the job outlook and salary for dental hygienists?

A: The job outlook for dental hygienists is promising, with a projected growth rate above average. The salary for dental hygienists can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and the type of setting they work in, but it can be competitive and provide good earning potential.

Q: What are some tips for succeeding as a dental hygienist?

A: To succeed as a dental hygienist, it is important to prioritize continuing education, build a strong professional network, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Seeking opportunities for professional development and staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in dental hygiene can also contribute to success.

Q: Are there opportunities for advancement and specialization in dental hygiene?

A: Yes, dental hygienists can pursue various avenues for advancement and specialization within the field. Some options include specializing in areas like periodontics or oral surgery, teaching dental hygiene, conducting research, or taking on leadership roles within dental practices or professional organizations.

Q: What are the challenges and rewards of being a dental hygienist?

A: Being a dental hygienist can come with challenges such as physical demands, long hours, and dealing with patients who may have dental anxiety. However, the profession also offers the rewarding opportunity to make a positive impact on patients’ oral health, as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Similar Posts