2020 Best Online Bachelor's in Dental Hygienist Schools & Programs

By Jennifer King Logan | Updated 9/8/2021
Quick Facts
Accreditation: Institutional
Average Tuition: $25,679
Alumni Salary: $56,830

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.

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2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Dental Hygiene Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Dental Hygiene Badge

The 22 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.

RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 Oregon Institute of Technology $12,593 $98,562
# 2 #2 Ohio State University-Main Campus $9,168 $80,985
# 3 #3 Minnesota State University at Mankato $8,481 $79,609
# 4 #4 Southern Illinois University - Carbondale $9,637 $76,311
# 5 #5 The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio $8,000 $75,300
# 6 #6 University of New Mexico $11,515 $76,548
# 7 #7 Utah Valley University $15,872 $77,358
# 8 #8 Vermont Technical College $17,880 $75,500
# 9 #9 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor $40,710 $84,145
# 10 #10 University of Bridgeport $16,650 $74,466
# 11 #11 Wichita State University $7,155 $69,913
# 12 #12 Clayton State University $5,490 $68,229
# 13 #13 Augusta University $9,270 $69,107
# 14 #14 Old Dominion University $12,210 $69,915
# 15 #15 Farmingdale State College $16,980 $71,321
# 16 #16 Western Kentucky University $16,740 $70,353
# 17 #17 Ferris State University $13,361 $67,981
# 18 #18 Missouri Southern State University $9,172 $64,612
# 19 #19 Eastern Washington University $24,073 $69,028
# 20 #20 University of Louisiana-Monroe $12,000 $63,624
# 21 #21 St. Petersburg College $12,773 $62,412
# 22 #22 Pennsylvania College of Technology $15,159 $59,954
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering Dental Hygiene Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 Oregon Institute of Technology

  • Annual Tuition: $12,593
  • Median Salary: $98,562
  • Locations: Klamath Falls (OR)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

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)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

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 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.

#9 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

  • Annual Tuition: $40,710
  • Median Salary: $84,145
  • Locations: Ann Arbor (MI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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.

#10 University of Bridgeport

  • Annual Tuition: $16,650
  • Median Salary: $74,466
  • Locations: Bridgeport (CT)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

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.

#11 Wichita State University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,155
  • Median Salary: $69,913
  • Locations: Wichita (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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.

#12 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.

#13 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.

#14 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.

#15 Farmingdale State College

  • Annual Tuition: $16,980
  • Median Salary: $71,321
  • Locations: Farmingdale (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

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.

#16 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.

#17 Ferris State University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,361
  • Median Salary: $67,981
  • Locations: Big Rapids (MI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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.

#18 Missouri Southern State University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,172
  • Median Salary: $64,612
  • Locations: Joplin (MO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

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.

#19 Eastern Washington University

  • Annual Tuition: $24,073
  • Median Salary: $69,028
  • Locations: Cheney (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

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.

#20 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.

#21 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.

#22 Pennsylvania College of Technology

  • Annual Tuition: $15,159
  • Median Salary: $59,954
  • Locations: Williamsport (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

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.

Overview of Online Dental Hygiene

Online Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (BSDH) programs are degree completion programs, meaning that applicants must have already earned an associate degree in dental hygiene before enrolling. Like most bachelor's degrees, a dental hygiene degree generally requires the completion of 120-126 credit hours. However, because incoming students have already accumulated 60 or more credit hours of dental hygiene and general education courses while earning their associate degrees, most students enrolled in these online programs only need two years of full-time study to complete the remaining required courses in dental health.

Admission requirements for online bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene vary by school. All dental schools require applicants to have completed an associate degree in dental hygiene, usually with a GPA of 2.0 or higher, at a community college, technical school, or vocational school. Some schools require applicants to have passed the national board exam for dental hygienists, and some require applicants to be fully licensed, practicing dental hygienists. Depending on the dental hygiene courses taken in the associate degree program, some students may also need to complete one or more prerequisites before enrolling in a bachelor's program.

Curriculum

The core curriculum of an online dental hygiene education program is designed to provide students with advanced knowledge in both patient care and applied science. Clinical care-based courses may include preventative measures, radiology, periodontology, and technology used for oral health. Science-based coursework may include advanced dental anatomy, oral pathology, microbiology, and pharmacology. Some programs may also require one term of on-site clinical practice, which can be completed at dental care clinics near students' homes. Students who are interested in related career opportunities may want to select a program that prepares them to become dental office managers by incorporating basic business management courses.


Accreditation for Dental Hygiene Degrees

Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing an online dental hygiene program. For an entire college or technical school to earn accreditation, all of its programs, faculty, and facilities must be evaluated and approved by an independent agency authorized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. Schools sometimes seek additional accreditation from professional organizations for individual programs, and the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the authorized agency for accrediting online dental hygiene programs.

Students who select an accredited dental hygiene program will enjoy several valuable benefits. First, it will allow them to qualify for financial aid and to transfer credits to another school. Depending on a student's chosen career path, accreditation may be required for licensure or for application to graduate school. Perhaps most important, enrollment in an accredited school ensures students are getting a quality education from a credible online program in dental hygiene.


Dental Hygiene Careers

Prospective students who are interested in clinical work in a dental office may want to consider becoming dental hygienists, although there are other dental health career paths to choose from as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, each of these occupations have different job responsibilities, educational requirements, and earning potential:

Dental Hygienist

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. Hygienists also contribute to documenting and maintaining each patient’s records, and they are typically responsible for educating patients about proper oral care. According to the American Dental Association, dental hygienists must earn an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene at an accredited institution of higher education, and must also obtain licensure to qualify for a position as a hygienist. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $77,090, and the need for dental hygienists is expected to grow at a rate of 6% through 2029.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants are usually tasked 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 responsibilities may include preparing the treatment room, making sure that instruments and equipment are sterile, and handling billing. Dental assistants typically need to earn a dental assistant diploma or certificate to practice. Students who choose this career path can expect to earn a median annual salary of $41,180. The BLS projects that this occupation will grow by 7% over the next decade.

Dental Laboratory Technician

Dental laboratory technicians generally work directly with dentists, but not necessarily with patients. Working from impressions or molds of a patient's teeth, they use small hand tools to construct dental appliances, such as crowns, bridges, and dentures. Although individuals qualify for entry-level positions with only a high school diploma or the equivalent, aspiring technicians may want to consider enrolling at a community college, technical school, or vocational school to earn an associate degree or certificate in dental laboratory technology. Technicians with some college-level coursework may qualify for more advanced, better-paying jobs. The median annual wage for dental technicians is $42,110, and the projected growth through 2029 is 9%.

Graduates who have earned Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene degrees may also qualify for non-clinical positions in the oral care industry, such as dental office manager, dental supply or pharmaceutical sales representative, or dental insurance officer. Some may advance their dental hygiene education by pursuing a Master of Science degree in the field, which can lead to a number of other career opportunities, particularly in education and research.


How Can I Further My Career as a Dental Hygienist?

To maintain their state licenses, dental hygienists must take continuing education courses, which are post-graduate, non-credit classes that keep oral care professionals up to date on their skills and knowledge of the field. Hygienists may want to consider joining one of these organizations that offer continuing education courses. Membership may also enhance their professional status.

  • With more than 185,000 members, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association supports dental hygienists in their careers and provides 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 continuing education courses and professional events, and members who want to advance their skills may be eligible for scholarships and grants.
  • The National Dental Hygienists Association 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.

Licensure for Dental Hygienists

For all healthcare professionals, including dental hygienists, state licensure is the strongest form of regulation and is required to legally practice as a professional. Licensure requirements vary by state, but aspiring dental hygienists must first earn their degrees through an accredited dental hygiene program. Graduates then 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. Once licensed, professionals are known as registered dental hygienists (RDH).

For dental hygienists, state licensure is the strongest form of regulation and is required to legally practice as a professional.

The NBDHE is administered at testing centers across the country, and students are advised to schedule their examinations 60-90 days in advance. The discipline-based component of the exam covers general knowledge of dentistry, dental services, and community health and research principles. The other case-based component presents students with questions related to actual clinical cases. Students must earn a score of 75 or higher on a scale of 49-99 to pass the exam. The NBDHE costs $400, and students may want to take one of several variations of the practice test for fees ranging from $20 to $100.

Dental Hygienist Specializations

Under the broad umbrella of dental hygiene occupations, there are a number of opportunities to work with specific groups of people or with dental specialists. Professionals with advanced training may be able to earn higher salaries, and the BLS reports that the top-earning registered dental hygienists earn a median salary of $104,420. Some of the specialty areas include:

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 patient care records and treatment plans. They are also responsible for teaching children about preventative 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 dental health issues in their patients, such as untreated cavities and gum disease. According to the BLS, there is a growing need for dental hygienists who specialize in working with this age group.

Periodontal Dental Hygienists

Periodontology is a specialization within dentistry. Periodontists treat diseases in the gum tissue and supporting bone, and their work may involve surgery. Dental hygienists who want to work in periodontics require additional coursework in the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, as well as surgical procedures and patient education.

Orthodontic Dental Hygienists

Another specialty area within dentistry, orthodontics refers to the diagnosis and correction of misaligned or poorly positioned teeth and jaws. The most common form of treatment is braces, but orthodontists use many other methods as well. Orthodontic dental hygienists require special training in all of these treatment methods, and are often tasked with teaching patients about at-home oral care.

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 not allowed to perform more involved procedures that would entail cutting into tissue. In states where dental therapists are legally recognized, their actions are strictly governed by guidelines, and they always work under the supervision of a dentist. The median salary range for dental therapists is similar to the median annual wage for dental hygienists.


What Certifications are Available for Dental Hygienists?

Dental hygienists must earn either an associate degree from a two-year program or a bachelor's degree from a four-year program and obtain state licensure to practice. However, students who are eager to enter the dental field more quickly can earn a dental assistant certificate or diploma in less than one year or a dental laboratory technician certificate or associate degree in two years.

To enhance their professional status, some assistants, technicians, and hygienists may want to seek certification in addition to earning a degree, certificate, or diploma from a dental program. To earn certification, program graduates must pass a certification exam, which allows them to demonstrate a high level of skill and knowledge. The following are examples of certifications available to dental care professionals:

Certified Dental Laboratory Technician

A certified dental technician often works in a dental laboratory, producing such dental specialty items as crowns, bridges, implants, and dentures. The examination is administered by the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology.

Certified Dental Radiologist

Many states require dental assistants or dental hygienists to complete the Radiation Health and Safety examination prior to operating x-ray technology and performing radiology procedures.

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. This certification exam is administered by the Dental Assisting National Board.


Is an Online Dental Hygiene Degree Worth It?

Determining the value of a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene depends on a number of factors. Students can enter this growing field and earn good salaries with only an associate degree, but the ADA states that a baccalaureate degree in dental hygiene opens doors to additional career opportunities. A four-year degree may be required to practice in school or public health programs, and is definitely a requirement to enter a master's program in preparation for a career in research or academia.

Prospective students also need to weigh the pros and cons of earning a dental hygiene degree online. Distance learning allows students to enroll in the best online dental hygiene program to suit their academic interests and financial needs without having to move to a new location to attend school. Online degrees are sometimes less expensive, and the format enables students to fit their class time and coursework around employment and family commitments. Also, because online programs are dental hygiene degree completion programs, they do not require any clinical practice, so students do not have to find appropriate facilities for hands-on training. However, some students find it challenging to connect with peers and faculty in online discussion forums, which can cause feelings of isolation.

Online dental hygiene degree completion programs do not require any clinical practice, so students do not have to find appropriate facilities for hands-on training.

In the end, students must decide for themselves whether the time, money, and effort they will invest is worth the benefits they expect to get from earning an online degree. The decision must be made in the context of personal circumstances, preferences, and goals.

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