How to Become
a Dental Hygienist

Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications

If you want to become a dental hygienist, you can follow many paths. Our comprehensive guide below can help you choose which is best for you. Read on to learn about dental hygienist education pathways, essential skills, your job outlook, and more.

What Is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is an oral health professional who focuses on oral disease prevention. Dental hygienists can work in many different settings, sometimes hand-in-hand with dentists. You can find them in private practice, hospitals, schools, or even public health clinics.

What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Dental Hygienist?

You can become a dental hygienist from many different academic programs. You can enroll at a community college, trade school, or university. Each program can help you learn everything from the basics to advanced techniques.

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Read below to find the best education pathway to help you become a dental hygienist.

Best Dental Hygienist Education Tracks

If you are looking to start a dental hygienist career, you should choose which pathway is best for you. Dentistry requires many skills to be successful in the field, so formal education is necessary. Take a look at the programs below to learn more about their pros and cons.


Vocational School

If you choose to attend a vocational school, also known as a trade school, you can graduate after three years. Some vocational schools offer dental hygiene programs for only 17 months. These programs offer career-driven learning to help you get the skills you need to become a successful dental hygienist.


Community College

Once you have your high school diploma, you can attend any accredited community college program. The Commission on Dental Accreditation makes sure every school teaches the right skills in dentistry. It accredits dental schools and programs in the United States.

Community colleges can provide aspiring dental hygienists with a comprehensive oral hygiene education. These programs will help you understand the basics of being a dental hygienist and prepare you to take a licensing exam.


Dental Hygienist Degrees

To become a dental hygienist, you can get an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. Associate degrees are a popular option because they only take two years. Once you get this degree, you can easily sit for a license examination and become a certified practitioner.

If you are interested in specializing your practice, you should get a bachelor’s degree. It is an excellent program to train on leadership and learn more theoretical practices. You can also get a master’s degree if you are looking for a more administrative role. The program takes two years to complete, but it has immense rewards in the long run.

According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, the average cost for an associate degree is $22,692, a bachelor’s degree costs $36,382, and a master’s degree is $30,421. You should also keep in mind additional costs for books, transport, dental hygiene equipment, and other supplies.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Become a Dental Hygienist: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you want to become a dental hygienist this year, you should take a look at the steps below. We have put together a rough path that you can take for a successful career in dental hygiene. The steps will help you become a licensed practitioner with the right level of education and experience.

Register for a program

First, you need to register for an accredited educational program. The American Dental Association website features a list of programs you can take in dental hygiene. You can choose between a vocational school and different college degree options.

Get licensed

Once you have completed the program, you can register for the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam. This four-hour exam will help you get your license to practice as a dental hygienist. Make sure to check the standards in your state to make sure you’re ready to practice.

Look for a job

After following these steps, you should be able to land a job as a dental hygienist. You can decide to work in the private or public sector. Do your research and ask around to decide which type of job will suit you best.

Take continuing education classes

In this profession, you should stay up to date with new practices. You will need to update your certifications annually, and it will be less work if you are always learning. This is the best way to give your patients the best care possible.

Key Dental Hygienist Skills

Key Dental Hygienist Skills

To succeed as a dental hygienist, you need more than an impressive educational background. These skills will make you a top choice among job candidates.


In a dental hygienist work environment, you will come across potentially dangerous equipment. You should be able to use these with ease and keep patients safe. If you have steady hands, you will be a successful hygienist.

X-Ray Administration

It is part of your job description to take x-rays of patients. X-rays can cause damage if not handled properly. Your extensive knowledge of the equipment will help during day-to-day activities.

Restorative Procedures

The job responsibilities of a dental hygienist are quite vast. You need to have extensive knowledge of most dental procedures, including restorative procedures. This will be useful in helping dentists perform different procedures on patients.

Dental Hygienist Salary and Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, a registered dental hygienist’s average salary in 2020 was $77,090. This means that the average practitioner earns $37.06 each hour. This is a great average, and you can make even more with more education and experience.

According to BLS, there is going to be a six percent increase in dental hygienist jobs by 2029. This is because of the aging population who require more dental services. If you decide to start your career today, you will have thousands of jobs available for you over the next few years.

Min salary


Average salary


Top salary


Entry-Level Dental Hygienist Job Requirements

According to the BLS, an entry-level dental hygienist position requires at least an associate degree in dental hygiene. Associates degrees can give you the necessary education to get licensed and start practicing in the field.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average entry-level dental hygienist salary is $43,815 each year. ZipRecruiter also says you should consider working in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Lakes, or Washington DC if you want to have higher pay. To earn even more as a dental hygienist, you should consider finding your niche.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

A dental hygienist performs different basic oral health procedures. Most people mistake dental hygienists for dentists. Even though they work in conjunction with each other, they do different things. Read below to find out more about the daily activities of a dental hygienist.

Reviewing Dental and Health History

Before you perform any procedures, you need to find out the patient’s oral history. This review will help you and the dentist understand underlying medical conditions, oral health risks, and the best routes to prevent emergencies. It will also help you curate the best treatment plan for the patient.

Oral Cleaning

A dental hygienist usually removes stains, plaque, and tartar from a patient’s teeth. This greatly improves dental hygiene by preventing cavities and tooth decay. As a dental hygienist, you also floss a patient’s teeth and apply fluoride treatments.

Educating Patients

Dental hygienists inform patients of the best practices when it comes to dental care. You can describe precautionary treatments and practices to help patients with their oral hygiene at home. Most hygienists recommend fluoride and sealants, which are effective in protecting teeth.

Dental Hygienist License

To practice as a dental hygienist, you need to have a license. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed before they begin any dental practices. You can keep up with the current certifications in your location with resources from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

National Board Dental Examinations

The Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations can help you get your dental hygienist license. This process will assess job readiness when it comes to dentistry and dental hygiene. The commission offers a series of examinations that can test dental hygiene skills and knowledge.

The exams include Board Dental Examination Part I and Part II, the Dental Licensure Objective Structured Clinical Examination, the Integrated National Board Dental Examination, and the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. These examinations will validate your right to practice dentistry or dental hygiene.

How to Prepare for Your Dental Hygienist Job Interview

How to Prepare for Your Dental Hygienist Job Interview

To be successful in any job interview, you must prepare. Whether you are an expert or a novice, you can easily fail to land a job opportunity without proper preparation. A strong resume may get your foot in the door, but you need exceptional interview skills to get the job.

Practice interview questions are a great way to ace your job interview. You can practice with a friend and get more confident with your answers. Read below for the most common dental hygiene interview questions.

Dental Hygienist Job Interview Practice Questions

  • What is your experience as a dental hygienist?
  • Have you educated patients on oral health before?
  • Are you familiar with HIPAA standards?
  • What are your significant achievements in dental hygiene?
  • Why did you decide to practice dental hygiene?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dental Hygienist?

Becoming a dental hygienist will usually take you three years. Your vocational school will take two or three years, and a degree can take you two to four years. Either way, you will practice clinical, laboratory, and theory exercises to prepare you for a successful dental hygiene career.

It is vital that you get licensed before you start practicing. The requirements vary from state to state. If you want to conduct research in dental hygiene, you should consider taking a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.

Associate degree


Bachelor’s degree


Master’s degree


Should You Become a Dental Hygienist In 2021?

Yes, you should become a dental hygienist in 2021. It’s an excellent career path to take if you want to impact your patients’ lives while earning decent pay. This profession will put you at the forefront of medical careers and reward you in the most unexpected ways. A dental hygiene profession is a fantastic career choice.

Dental Hygienist FAQ

Do dental hygienists do fillings?

Yes, some states allow dental hygienists to perform fillings. They can remove sutures, polish metal restorations, and carve filling materials.

Who gets paid more, a dental assistant or dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists usually get paid more because they have more education.

What are the disadvantages of being a dental hygienist?

Some dental hygienists complain of burnout. The repetitive work schedule can be overbearing for some.

Can you move up from being a dental hygienist?

If you want to change your career path, you can easily transition into becoming a dental hygiene educator. You will have a broader target audience if you choose this route.

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