Dental hygienists work alongside dentists to provide oral health care. They interact closely with patients, performing routine dental cleanings, taking x-rays, and documenting dental records and treatment plans. Most commonly, dental hygienists work in dental offices, but they may also find jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, community organizations, and research facilities.
Dental hygienists need to be licensed in order to work. After earning an associate degree and receiving licensure, some dental hygienists may choose to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in dental hygiene in order to qualify for higher-level specializations, leadership positions, or teaching opportunities that increase their earning potential.
2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Dental Hygiene Degrees
The 23 online colleges on this list are the best value options for online bachelor's degrees in dental hygiene, based on their tuition and alumni-reported salaries. Oregon Institute of Technology is ranked #1, offering a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (Degree Completion) for $12,593 per year. Graduates of the school reported a median salary of $98,562. In the #2 spot, Ohio State University-Main Campus offers a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene for only $9,168 per year, making it an affordable choice for distance learners who are looking for a high quality and affordable education.
Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.
The Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) provides a fully online degree completion program for practicing dental hygienists. Students will receive an education that combines dental hygiene coursework with classes in public health, education, and management. Courses can be completed according to students’ schedules through the use of the Canvas learning management system. Canvas offers the ability to connect with classmates and professors, as well as learn through video lectures, simulations, quizzes, and projects. Within the curriculum, students can select elective courses that align with their career goals and interests. Upon program completion, participants will receive a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene and may choose to continue their studies by pursuing a master's degree. Prospective students must be licensed dental hygienists or eligible for licensure in their states. To be considered for admission, qualified students must submit their transcripts and an online application. Transfer students must have a minimum GPA of 2.25 and at least 24 credits, though at least 45 credits must be completed at Oregon Tech. A number of student resources are available, including peer consulting, testing services, library access, and academic advising.
#2 Ohio State University-Main Campus
Annual Tuition: $9,168
Median Salary: $80,985
Locations: Columbus (OH)
Ohio State University’s College of Dentistry hosts an online bachelor's degree completion program for currently licensed dental hygienists. All program courses are available online through the Canvas learning management system. Students new to Canvas can take an online readiness assessment, as well as an orientation. The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene requires 30–55 credits, depending on the number of transfer credits applied, and a combined total of 120 credits. Students typically complete the program in two years of full-time attendance. However, students may also choose to study on a part-time schedule. The curriculum covers general education requirements and advanced dental hygiene practices and allows students to select an area of specialization. Candidates must have an accredited associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene and at least a 2.7 GPA on all previous higher education coursework. New students must complete an application by May in order to begin their courses in the fall. Along with the application, students must submit their transcripts and two letters of recommendation. Services available to distance learners include career counseling and support, academic advising, library access, and technology support.
#3 Minnesota State University at Mankato
Annual Tuition: $8,481
Median Salary: $79,609
Locations: Mankato (MN)
Minnesota State Mankato offers several online programs, including a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree completion program. Intended for those who are already licensed dental hygienists, the curriculum aims to develop students' skill set in preparation for advanced career opportunities. The program includes 11 courses for a total of 32 credits. It is offered in standard and accelerated formats through the Desire2Learn learning management system. Students in the standard track will take two classes a semester, while those in the accelerated track will take four classes a semester. In addition, students must complete general education requirements, which are also available online. Courses are delivered asynchronously and may include papers, tests or quizzes, online discussions, and presentations. Those interested in applying must fill out an application for Minnesota State Mankato, as well as an application for the Dental Hygiene Completion Program. The former also requires the submission of official transcripts and at least a 2.0 GPA, while the latter requires proof of licensure and completion of an accredited dental hygiene program. Minnesota State Mankato provides resources for students such as TRIO support services, academic advising, career development tools, and accessibility accommodations.
#4 Southern Illinois University - Carbondale
Annual Tuition: $9,637
Median Salary: $76,311
Locations: Carbondale (IL)
Southern Illinois University Carbondale is the flagship campus of the SIU system, which includes schools, universities, and centers throughout Illinois. The School of Health Sciences at Carbondale is home to a fully online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene Management/Education degree completion program. It is designed for professionals with an associate degree who are currently working in the field. Students must complete 120 credit hours, 31 of which are management/education-specific. These courses focus on the skills needed to advance into upper-level positions in the field. All coursework is delivered using the Desire2Learn learning management system and incorporates both asynchronous and synchronous components. Students have the flexibility to study on a part-time or full-time schedule. There is one start date for new students each year. Prospective students must be credentialed dental hygienists. Application materials include academic transcripts with a minimum GPA of 2.0. ACT or SAT test scores are also required if applicants have fewer than 26 transfer credits. Once enrolled, students have access to academic advising, tutoring, IT support, and library resources.
#5 The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Annual Tuition: $8,000
Median Salary: $75,300
Locations: San Antonio (TX)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The University of Texas Health Science Center (UT Health) at San Antonio is home to a bachelor's degree completion program in dental hygiene, offered through the School of Dentistry. The program only accepts 12 students each year and is designed to prepare graduates for career advancement. Students learn the principles of dental hygiene therapy, theoretical aspects of patient care, and dental/dental hygiene sciences. The curriculum is offered entirely online through the Canvas learning management system, which allows students to complete coursework at their own pace. Students can expect to conduct research, complete interactive tutorials, turn in written assignments, and participate in classroom discussions. Resources such as counseling, library services, financial aid, and Canvas support are available to all distance learners. The degree requires a total of 123 credit hours; most students in the program will need 30 hours to fulfill the requirements. To gain admission to the program, students must complete an online application, and submit two references, a personal statement, and academic transcripts. Qualified applicants have at least a 2.7 GPA and are already licensed hygienists. Graduates may seek positions in dental management, teaching, or research.
#6 University of New Mexico
Annual Tuition: $11,515
Median Salary: $76,548
Locations: Albuquerque (NM)
The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene at the University of New Mexico is an online program requiring a total of 128 semester hours. Students can choose from a part-time or full-time course load, with fall, spring, and summer start dates. The program is for licensed dental hygienists seeking to learn advanced clinical skills and expand their careers into areas such as teaching, public health, and practice management. Courses take place online and consist of class discussions via chat and email, along with reading, quizzes, and other types of coursework. To gain admission, students must be licensed in dental hygiene and possess a certificate or associate degree. A 2.5 GPA or higher is required for admission, along with a copy of national board scores and an interview with the admissions committee. The university supports online students through technical support services and a comprehensive online library. There is also a student portal where students can access various university resources; faculty is easily accessible via email and chat. The online dental hygiene program can be tailored for each student and is scheduled so that students can continue working.
#7 Utah Valley University
Annual Tuition: $15,872
Median Salary: $77,358
Locations: Orem (UT)
The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene at Utah Valley University is a two-year program that requires 120 credits for completion. Students begin their studies in the fall semester. The online BS in dental hygiene is for students who want to expand their career into education, public health, research, or management. Students can also go on to pursue a master’s degree. The program is for licensed dental hygienists with a diploma, certificate, or associate degree. Students must maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher and pass all courses with a “C” or higher in order to graduate. Technical support services and an online library are available to students, along with tutoring and academic advisory services. The online dental hygiene program at Utah Valley University is structured so that students can work and also complete coursework.
#8 University of South Dakota
Annual Tuition: $10,537
Median Salary: $74,305
Locations: Vermillion (SD)
The University of South Dakota offers a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene online program that spans two years. The program requires students to complete 120 credit hours and starts in the fall semester. Students learn advanced concepts related to dental hygiene, including inclusive patient care, public health, management, and teaching. Students who successfully complete the BS program are eligible to pursue their master’s degree. Courses are conducted fully online and include lectures, discussions, and demonstrations. Students must have an associate degree in dental hygiene to gain entrance to the online dental hygiene programs at USD. There are prerequisite courses students must successfully complete prior to program admission, including general education courses and program-related science courses. Students must achieve a minimum GPA of 2.5 for prerequisite courses in order to be accepted into this program. Resources for online students include an online writing center and library. Students also have access to tech support services. The online dental hygiene program at USD is for students who want to continue working while pursuing their bachelor’s degree.
#9 Vermont Technical College
Annual Tuition: $17,880
Median Salary: $75,500
Locations: Randolph Center (VT)
Accreditation: NEASC CTCI
The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene program at Vermont Technical College is a two-year, 120-credit program. Classes start in the fall and are completed on a part-time basis. Upon successful program completion, students can go on to pursue a master’s degree. This online dental hygiene program prepares students for leadership roles and careers in education and public health. Courses are completed online and consist of lectures and discussions. This program is for licensed working hygienists who already have an associate degree. Students must maintain a C average or higher in all their biology and dental hygiene courses. There is an online library for students to use, along with an IT portal for technical support. Faculty are accessible via email and chat, and academic advisory services are available. This program is made for students who plan to continue working while completing their education. Because classes are conducted online, students can schedule their coursework around career obligations.
#10 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Annual Tuition: $40,710
Median Salary: $84,145
Locations: Ann Arbor (MI)
The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree completion program. This part-time program spans two years and requires 36 credits. Students learn management and leadership skills, and the program prepares students for work in a public health or education setting. The program also prepares students to pursue a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene degree. Two weeks of on-campus orientation is required; the remainder of classes are taken online. Courses consist of lectures, discussions, papers, and projects without quizzes or tests. In order to gain admission to the online BS program, students must have an associate degree and licensure as a dental hygienist. Students have access to various online resources, including an online library and technical support services. The online dental hygiene program at the University of Michigan is staffed by licensed dental hygienists with master’s degrees. Students take one class at a time, which allows them to continue working in their chosen field without interruption.
#11 University of Bridgeport
Annual Tuition: $16,650
Median Salary: $74,466
Locations: Bridgeport (CT)
The Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene at the University of Bridgeport is a two-year online program. Students may be able to transfer 60 to 90 of their existing credits to the program. This program prepares students to pursue a higher-level degree or expand their career into research, education, sales, public health, or other areas. The course curriculum is customizable to meet each student’s needs. To gain entry into the BS in dental hygiene program, students must hold an associate-level degree and licensure as a dental hygienist. In addition, students must have completed all prerequisites with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. There are online advisory services for students, as well as an online tech support help desk. Students can also receive e-tutoring and access to the online library. The University of Bridgeport has the distinction of having the world’s first dental hygienist program. This online dental hygiene program is designed so that students can pursue their degree while continuing to work.
#12 Wichita State University
Annual Tuition: $7,155
Median Salary: $69,913
Locations: Wichita (KS)
Wichita State University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (RDH to BSDH) through its College of Health Professions. The 32-credit degree completion program can be completed in 12 to 15 months as a full-time course of study, or in up to six years for part-time students. The online dental hygiene program is open to registered dental hygienists. Students will learn about evidence-based practice, leadership in a clinical practice, and dental hygiene in both community health and education settings. To graduate, students must complete an applied learning experience, which occurs outside of the classroom through professional collaboration with a community partner. Courses are delivered asynchronously, allowing students to access coursework on their own schedules through the Blackboard platform. Admission to the program requires students to have a valid dental hygiene license and submit final transcripts (with a minimum 2.5 GPA) from an accredited dental hygiene program. Students will work with an advisor to determine an individualized plan of study. Graduates will earn a BSDH credential, which qualifies candidates to become full-time dental hygiene educators. All students are assigned an advisor to support them throughout their studies.
#13 Clayton State University
Annual Tuition: $5,490
Median Salary: $68,229
Locations: Morrow (GA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Clayton State University hosts a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene online completion degree through its College of Health. The 30-credit online dental hygiene program is open to registered dental hygienists and can be completed on either a full-time or part-time schedule. The program focuses on preparing students for advanced dental practice as well as supervisory, administrative, managerial, and marketing positions in the dental field. It also provides preparation for careers in education and research. All courses are delivered online in designated semesters and are delivered both synchronously and asynchronously, with students accessing class materials through the BrightSpace Learning Management System. Prospective students must have an unrestricted current dental hygiene license in the United States or be eligible for licensure. Admission requires a minimum GPA of 2.50 and the completion of 60 credit hours of core curriculum requirements. Students must also submit to a criminal background check and drug screening. Online students have access to The Center for Academic Success and The Writer’s Studio, where they can take advantage of one-on-one tutoring services and assignment help. Students are also assigned a personal advisor for support throughout their course of study.
#14 Augusta University
Annual Tuition: $9,270
Median Salary: $69,107
Locations: Augusta (GA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Augusta University hosts an online Bachelor of Science degree completion program for graduates of accredited dental hygiene programs who are looking to expand their career opportunities. The program requires six courses (30 credit hours) and explores current issues in the field, case management, workforce issues, dental informatics, and more. Online courses are delivered through the Desire 2 Learn platform. Students will use D2L to access course content, view recorded lectures, and submit assignments, quizzes, and exams. Courses are both synchronous and asynchronous. The degree can be completed in two semesters, though students can take longer. To be considered for admission, students must have completed 60 hours of core curriculum requirements. Students can access course information and submit assignments through the D2L learning management system. Other tools, such as Echo360, MS Teams, and WebEx, may also be used to support distance learning. Students can begin the program any semester. Prospective students will pay an application fee and must have an associate degree from an accredited dental hygiene program. Applicants may also need to participate in an interview. Online students have access to the Academic Success Center, where they can take advantage of tutoring and peer coaching services and can form virtual study groups.
#15 Old Dominion University
Annual Tuition: $12,210
Median Salary: $69,915
Locations: Norfolk (VA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The College of Health Sciences School of Dental Hygiene at Old Dominion University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree completion program for licensed dental hygienists. The 30-credit program is offered in both full-time and part-time study formats; full-time students can complete the program within three to four semesters. The curriculum includes the following courses: Perspectives on Dental Hygiene Practice, Administrative Leadership and Professional Development, and Telehealthcare Technology. Most classes are delivered asynchronously, meaning students can balance their studies with other commitments. Students can access professors' office hours for one-on-one support, and interact with their classmates via web conferencing, message boards, and discussion rooms on Blackboard. To be admitted to the program, students must be licensed dental hygienists and already have completed prerequisite courses at an accredited university. Online students can access virtual tutoring and study groups, and can also take advantage of the Math and Science Resource Center and the Language Learning Center for extra support. Online technical support is available around the clock.
#16 Farmingdale State College
Annual Tuition: $16,980
Median Salary: $71,321
Locations: Farmingdale (NY)
Farmingdale State College is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. With a focus on applied science and technology, the school offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree completion program through its School of Health Sciences. The online degree can be completed on either a part-time or full-time schedule. The program is designed to explore the upper-level study in the field of dental hygiene. Core classes explore teaching, research, and public health. Online courses are delivered asynchronously as part of the Open SUNY program; however, there are set start and end dates that align with the traditional fall and spring semester calendar. Online support is available every day of the week. Students access their course materials through the Blackboard learning management platform. Prospective students must have an associate degree in dental hygiene and a dental hygiene license. Admission requires transcripts and a minimum GPA of 2.5. A personal statement, resume, and letters of recommendation are encouraged, but not required. The capstone practicum course offers students the opportunity to explore an area of interest and gain real-world experience through an internship.
#17 Western Kentucky University
Annual Tuition: $16,740
Median Salary: $70,353
Locations: Bowling Green (KY)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Western Kentucky University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. The dental hygiene program can be completed in 15 months and can be taken as either a part-time or full-time course of study. The program requires 30 credits and is designed to teach students to deal with the complexities of modern oral health care. Courses explore concepts of teaching, research, and leadership, and can help build a foundation for advanced degrees. All online courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management platform and follow a traditional semester schedule. Classes are both synchronous and asynchronous. Online students have access to a number of support services, including career development, student counseling, academic advising, and technology services. To be considered for admission, applicants should have graduated from an accredited dental hygiene program in the United States and hold a current license in dental hygiene. They will also need to send official transcripts and have completed the mandatory prerequisite courses. A minimum cumulative GPA of 2.8 is required, and prerequisite courses require a grade of "C" or higher.
#18 Ferris State University
Annual Tuition: $13,361
Median Salary: $67,981
Locations: Big Rapids (MI)
Ferris State University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. The 30-credit degree completion program consists of self-directed learning that can be completed either part-time or full-time; however, students need to enroll in fall and spring semesters consecutively in order to be considered active in the program. The curriculum focuses on developing leadership skills, education, advanced research, practice management, and dental hygiene knowledge. Asynchronous classes allow students to login to complete classwork when it is most convenient for them. Applicants must have completed or be in their final academic year of an associate degree in an accredited dental hygiene program and must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5. Online students have access to a virtual Writing Center, an Academic Support Center, and the full university library catalog online. A practicum fieldwork experience must be completed at the end of the program before students are permitted to graduate.
#19 Missouri Southern State University
Annual Tuition: $9,172
Median Salary: $64,612
Locations: Joplin (MO)
Missouri Southern State University hosts a Bachelor of Science in Health Science - Dental Hygiene degree that can be completed online. The degree completion program is offered by the School of Health Science and is meant for students who hold an Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene, and are looking to expand their career opportunities. Program courses include Biomedical Ethics, Oral Histology and Embryology, Nutrition, Pharmacology, and more. Students will participate in seminars, lectures, and lab-style classes throughout their course of study. Asynchronous learning allows students to access course materials online at their convenience. The Blackboard learning management system is used to house all course material. To be considered for admission into the program, students must submit official transcripts and hold a current license to practice dental hygiene in the United States. Online students can access the Student Success Center, virtual one-on-one tutoring, and the Smarthinking Online Writing Lab 24 hours a day.
#20 Eastern Washington University
Annual Tuition: $24,073
Median Salary: $69,028
Locations: Cheney (WA)
Eastern Washington University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree completion program through its College of Health Science and Public Health. The 40-credit online dental hygiene program can be completed full-time within two years, or as a part-time program within three years. Thirty of the credits must be completed at EWU. The coursework explores liberal arts and broad-based education, exposing students to critical thinking, analysis, writing, and research. Online coursework includes class discussions, projects, video conferences, and self-timed assignments, and students access materials through the Canvas platform. To apply, students must have a current dental hygiene license in either the United States or Canada. They must also have completed an associate degree in dental hygiene from an accredited school. All graduates of the program will complete an electronic portfolio and will apply research findings to evidence-based practices. Online students have access to the university’s Online Tutoring Portal, Math Lab, and Writers’ Center.
#21 University of Louisiana-Monroe
Annual Tuition: $12,000
Median Salary: $63,624
Locations: Monroe (LA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The University of Louisiana-Monroe offers an online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degree completion program. The online dental hygiene program is hosted by the Department of Dental Hygiene and is available to licensed dental hygienists who hold an associate degree from an accredited university. The coursework integrates biomedical and behavioral sciences to teach students the skills they need to further their career in the dental industry. It requires at least 19 credits worth of professional core requirements. ULM’s online courses are delivered in 8-week sessions throughout the fall, spring, and summer semesters, allowing students to complete their degrees more quickly than traditional 16-week programs. Starting dates are available throughout the year. Online students have access to academic advising, virtual library resources, and technology support. To be considered for admission, students must have graduated from an accredited dental hygiene program with a minimum average GPA of 2.5. They should have successfully completed the Dental Hygiene National Board Examination and will need to submit official college transcripts.
#22 St. Petersburg College
Annual Tuition: $12,773
Median Salary: $62,412
Locations: Clearwater (FL)
Accreditation: SACS COC
St. Petersburg College hosts an online degree completion program for those seeking a Bachelor of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene. The program is offered through the school’s Health Sciences and Veterinary Technology department and is for licensed dental hygienists who want to further their career by obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Students can start the program in either the spring or fall semesters, and the degree takes 24 months to complete. Classes are conducted one at a time for either six or eight weeks, followed by a week off, and they explore topics like practice management, education, and sales. Students remain with the same cohort of peers throughout their entire course of study. Online students can access virtual tutoring services, online research help, and the college library. To apply, students must submit official transcripts showing completion of a dental hygiene degree from an accredited institution and must have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.0. To graduate, students will complete a capstone course that lasts 14 weeks and applies career interests through either teaching, observing, or internships.
#23 Pennsylvania College of Technology
Annual Tuition: $15,159
Median Salary: $59,954
Locations: Williamsport (PA)
The Pennsylvania College of Technology offers a bachelor’s in dental hygiene degree completion program that is delivered entirely online, through its School of Nursing and Health Sciences. The online dental hygiene program is available on a full-time or part-time schedule and is open to students who have a current dental hygiene license. Courses focus on a broad approach to dentistry that explores communication skills, arts, history, and science, and encourage collaboration among students. After meeting admission requirements, prospective students need to submit proof of a passing score on the Dental Hygiene National Board Examination. Transcripts showing completion of an accredited dental hygiene program are also required. All classes are delivered through the P.L.A.T.O. platform, and students will have access to one-on-one interaction with faculty and professors. Students can take advantage of online tutoring available 24 hours a day. At the end of the program, students can opt to participate in an internship as part of their capstone project to apply real-world work experience to their education.
What can you do with a dental hygiene degree?
Dental hygienists in a clinical role are responsible for assessing, diagnosing, implementing, and evaluating documented treatment plans for their patients. Although most dental hygienists work in private dental practices, they may also find positions available in community clinics, hospitals, schools, and prisons. Some dental hygienists choose to cater to the needs of those who normally can’t afford dental care, perhaps through community clinics or social service programs. Although there are full-time positions available, many dental hygienists work part time. Because some dentists hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, some hygienists work for more than one dentist.
In some states, dental hygienists are allowed to advance to the position of dental therapist, in which they are allowed to perform some of the more advanced procedures ordinarily performed by dentists, such as fitting a bridge or crown. Work as a dental therapist requires additional training, is subject to strict state limitations, and is typically performed under the supervision of a dentist.
A number of other career paths are open to graduates with degrees in dental hygiene. For example, companies that support the oral health industry often hire experienced dental hygienists to work as corporate sales representatives, product researchers, corporate educators, or corporate administrators. Dental hygiene professionals with an interest in industry trends and developments may pursue careers in research conducted through colleges and universities, corporations, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Research may be either qualitative or quantitative. And finally, advanced dental hygienists may opt for careers as educators, which are in high demand in the U.S.
What is the importance of an accreditated online dental hygiene degree?
One thing that students should keep in mind when choosing any program, but particularly a degree program in dental hygiene, is whether the school is accredited. There are regional, national, and programmatic accreditations. Regional accreditation is given to nonprofit, degree-granting schools by an independent, regionally-based agency that has evaluated the school to make sure it meets certain educational standards. Regional accreditation is important for a variety of reasons, including the ease of transferring credits between institutions, the ability to use federal financial aid, and the assurance that future employers will recognize the diploma as valid. National accreditation is typically granted to non degree granting institutions such as technical schools. Programmatic accreditation is when an organization that specializes in a certain field accredits programs within that field.
For those students interested in pursuing further education and licensure in dental hygiene, a degree from an accredited program is frequently required. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) serves to regulate and promote quality standards among dental education programs, so CODA accreditation ensures that students receive an education that aligns with dental industry standards.
Online Dental Hygiene Degree Overview & Career Information
Online dental hygienist programs are available in the form of bachelor's degrees and master's degrees. Bachelor's degrees are typically aimed at those who have earned an associate degree in dental hygiene and who want to gain more skills to advance their career. Master's degrees are available for those who already work in the field and who want to go into education or other leadership roles. There are also master's programs in dental hygiene for those who have a bachelor's in another healthcare discipline or related field but who have no dental hygiene training and who want to start their dental hygiene career.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Dental Hygiene
Online bachelor's degrees in dental hygiene are typically available to those who have already completed an associate degree in dental hygiene and who want to gain more experience and possibly move up into more advanced positions within the field, such as management roles.
A dental hygiene bachelor's program can be found at colleges and universities and typically takes two years to complete, as students begin the program with an associate degree already completed. Admission to a dental hygiene bachelor's program will require an associate degree in dental hygiene and a dental hygienist's license. Tuition will run anywhere from under $11,000 a year to over $22,000 a year.
Classes that students enrolled in one of these programs will take include Contemporary Issues in Dental Hygiene, Community Health and Epidemiology, Dental Hygiene Educational Concepts, Pain Management, Community and Rural Dental Health, and Geriatric Dental Hygiene. Upon completing one of these programs, graduates will be able to work in a variety of locations like hospitals, nursing homes, and dental clinics, as well as in dental hygiene education, and they will be prepared to take on additional responsibilities in their jobs.
Is licensure required to become a dental hygienist?
While requirements vary, all dental hygienists need to be licensed in order to work. The first requirement that all states share is that aspiring dental hygienists must earn their training through an accredited dental hygiene program. Dental hygienists also need to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and their state's specific board examination. Other potential requirements may include CPR certification, letters of recommendation, and a background check. Licensure is the strongest form of regulation, guiding the work of all healthcare professionals, including dentists, nurses, and dietitians, as well as dental hygienists.
What certifications are available for dental hygienists?
Students earning degrees in dental hygiene may benefit from achieving certification in specific professional areas. These certifications can lead to career advancement as they indicate proficiency in particular skill sets, which make the recipients more desirable candidates for certain positions. The following are examples of certifications available to dental hygienists:
Certified Dental Laboratory Technician: A certified dental technician often works in a dental laboratory, producing such dental specialty items as orthodontics, ceramics, crowns, bridges, implants, and dentures. The ability to produce these unique items requires specialized training, and certification demonstrates competency and knowledge in these skills.
Certified Dental Radiologist: Students who receive a certificate in dental radiology are uniquely prepared to operate x-ray equipment and radiology procedures. Most states require dental assistants or dental hygienists to complete this certification prior to operating x-ray technology.
Certified Orthodontic Assistant: Certified orthodontic assistants are dental hygienists who work with orthodontists to diagnose and treat teeth and jaw issues, such as overcrowded teeth, crossbites, and overbites. Certification generally requires special training in orthodontic procedures and infection control.
What can dental hygienists specialize in?
Pediatric dental hygienists: Like all dental hygienists, pediatric dental hygienists must have the same skills in performing routine dental cleanings, taking x-rays, and documenting dental records and treatment plans. They are also responsible for teaching children about effective oral hygiene techniques and good healthcare habits. Pediatric dental hygienists must have a special sensitivity to children, and must understand the importance of patience in dealing with young patients, who can be challenging to work with and may be fearful of dental treatment.
Geriatric dental hygienists: Dental hygienists who specialize in working with elderly patients may work in dental practices or may find themselves working in nursing homes and other healthcare facilities for seniors. Geriatric dental hygienists will be asked to perform the same types of cleaning treatments and other routine procedures as all dental hygienists, but are more likely to encounter more serious oral health issues in their patients, such as untreated cavities and gum disease. Unlike earlier generations who were more likely to opt for dentures, today’s seniors are trying to retain their natural teeth as much as possible, which means there is a growing need for dental hygienists who specialize in working with this age group.
Dental therapists: Some states allow dental hygienists to perform some of the more advanced procedures ordinarily performed by dentists, in which case they are called dental therapists. After extensive training, dental therapists are legally allowed to perform such procedures as fitting a bridge or crown, but are never allowed to perform more involved procedures that would entail cutting into tissue. In states where dental therapists are legal, their actions are strictly governed by guidelines and limitations, and they always work under the direct or indirect supervision of a dentist.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a dental hygienist online?
Online dental hygienist degrees take an average of 2-6 years to complete depending on which degree the student is pursuing. Many of the online bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dental hygiene require that a student is already a licensed dental hygienist. This means they’ve likely completed an associate degree in the field, or completed an accredited dental hygiene program.
What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?
Although there is some overlap in the job duties of dental hygienists and dental assistants within a dentist’s office, the requirements and salaries are quite different.
Like dental hygienists, dental assistants spend much of their day working closely with patients and dentists. Dental assistants are often charged with preparing patients for treatment by reviewing their medical history, taking their blood pressure and pulse, and talking to patients about oral care. During a procedure, they help dentists by passing instruments and holding equipment. Other tasks may include preparing the treatment room, making sure that instruments and equipment are sterile, maintaining patient records, scheduling appointments, and handling billing. Dental assistants do not need formal training, so they are frequently trained on the job. However, some states require dental assistants to complete a formal training program and receive a diploma or certificate.
By contrast, dental hygienists perform the cleaning, polishing, stain removal, and fluoride application in dental cleanings, and they are generally responsible for taking and developing x-rays. Like dental assistants, dental hygienists also contribute to documenting and maintaining each patient’s records. Dental hygienists must be prepared with an associate degree and must also obtain licensure in order to be offered a position as a hygienist.
How much do dental assistants and dental hygienists make?
Due in part to the differences in education, skill sets, and specialized knowledge required, dental assistants typically make less money than dental hygienists. According to the BLS, the salary range for dental assistants is approximately $27,980 to $56,930, while the salary range for dental hygienists is approximately $53,130 to $103,340 as of May 2019.
Is it harder to become an RN or a dental hygienist? Is working as an RN or dental hygienist more difficult?
Deciding which career to pursue is a personal preference. An RN and dental hygienist both have degree level options. Both can enter the field after earning an associate degree, and both benefit from a higher level of education. Neither field is more difficult. For some, a fast-paced work environment may be more appealing, while others may enjoy a slower setting. The key is to research what interests you and fits your lifestyle, and what programs are available and accessible to you.
How can I further my career as a dental hygienist?
Professionals in the field of dental hygiene may want to continue their education and enhance their career paths by joining one of these organizations:
The American Dental Hygienists’ Association(ADHA) is the largest national organization representing the professional interests of more than 185,000 registered dental hygienists (RDHs) across the country. The ADHA is dedicated to supporting dental hygienists in their careers and providing the latest training and information. Members receive current industry news and research through two publications, Access Magazine and the Journal of Dental Hygiene. The ADHA also offers hundreds of continuing education courses and professional events, and members who wish to continue their education are eligible for dozens of scholarships and grants.
The National Dental Hygienists Association(NDHA) is the largest and oldest organization of minority dental hygienists in the world. NDHA members enjoy access to professional development assistance and mentoring, gain exposure to an international network of fellow professionals, and are invited to participate in annual events and informative programs. Scholarships are available to those members who want to pursue additional educational opportunities.
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