How To Become A Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental hygienist requires vocational training or an Associate’s degree. A license is also required to work as a dental hygienist.

dental hygienist at work

Dental hygienists are licensed professionals who help patients maintain good oral health. They work closely with dentists to perform a variety of tasks, including cleaning teeth, taking X-rays, and educating patients on proper oral hygiene practices.

Dental hygienists are not to be confused with a dental assistant. Dental assistants help prepare rooms, assist with patients and clean tools. Dental hygienists will be the ones who actually work in people’s mouths and do the cleanings.

Let’s take a look at what the job entails and how you can get started.

What Does A Dental Hygienist Do?

Becoming a dental hygienist is an exciting and rewarding career in the healthcare industry. As a dental hygienist, you will play an essential role in promoting good oral health and preventing dental problems. You will work closely with dentists, patients, and other dental professionals to provide quality oral care.

Dental hygienists are licensed dental professionals who specialize in cleaning teeth, examining for signs of oral disease, and providing education on good dental care. They work in private dental offices, clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare settings. Dental hygienists are responsible for a variety of tasks, including:

  • Cleaning teeth and removing plaque and tartar buildup
  • Examining teeth and gums for signs of disease or decay
  • Taking dental x-rays
  • Applying fluoride treatments and sealants to teeth
  • Educating patients on proper oral care techniques
  • Recording patient information and maintaining dental records

To become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete a training or degree program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). These programs are offered at community colleges, technical schools, dental schools, and universities. After completing your education, you will need to pass a national board exam and a state or regional clinical exam to become a registered dental hygienist (RDH).

The job outlook for dental hygienists is excellent, with a projected job growth rate of 6 percent from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $77,090 in May 2020.

Overall, the dental hygienist profession is an exciting and rewarding career path for those interested in oral health and patient care. With the right education and training, you can become a licensed dental professional and make a difference in the lives of your patients.

dental hygienist at work

How To Become A Dental Hygienist

To become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete a dental hygiene program at an accredited institution. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the accrediting body for dental hygiene programs in the United States. CODA ensures that programs meet rigorous standards in curriculum, faculty, facilities, and resources.

STEP 1: Minimum Requirements

To get started in a program you must be at least 18 years of age and have a high-school diploma or GED. A minimum GPA in high school of 2.0 is typically recommended.

STEP 2: Attend An Accredited Dental Hygiene Program

Dental hygienists will need to attend a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredited program to be able to get licensed.

Most programs are held at community colleges or vocational schools and the minimum level of training is approximately 2-years.

Some of the courses that are part of the Associate’s degree program include:

  • Oral Anatomy
  • Periodontics
  • Dental Radiology
  • Principles of dental hygiene care
  • Dental materials
  • Microbiology

This is definitely a career that requires more education than some of the other skilled trades. So be prepared to do that homework!

STEP 3: Licensing

Licensing for dental hygienists vary by state. There will be a fee to register a license and specific requirements that will need to be met.

Your license will need to be renewed, this can range from yearly to every 2 or 3 years.

View the requirements for your state here.

Each state has their own dental board, this is where you would need to get your licensing done.

Step 4. Career Advancement

Now that you are fully licensed, it is important you keep your education and knowledge of your industry up-to-date. There is a no better way than to become a member of an organization of your peers.

The American Dental Hygienists’ Association is highly recommended.

You can also go on to get a Bachelor’s degree if you want to up your value to an employer.

Recommended Skills For Dental Hygienists


With approximately 36% of people having “dentophobia”, having compassion for patients will be key to being a successful hygienist.

Problem Solving

Your days will be filled with a lot of challenges from anxious patients to unexpected care issues. You will need to be able to work quick and find solutions to get the job done.

Attention to Detail

The mouth is a small space, your eyes and ability to see even the smallest issues will be important to maintain a patient’s oral health.

Time Management

A dentist office is a busy place and with tight times between patient visits, it will be critical that you make the most of every minute to keep patients happy.

Dental Hygienist Salary

According to the United States Labor Department, the median annual pay for all hygienists in 2021 was $77,810.

That means that half of all dispatchers will earn more than that amount, and half of them will earn less.

Salary will be based on location, size of dental office, and hours worked.

Many dental offices may only hire part-time hygienists, and some may not have any benefits. These are important to ask about when trying to find a job.

My own dentist is only open 4 days a week. There are 3 hygienists who work rotating schedules with an average 28 hour work week.

Dental Hygienist Job Outlook

The US Bureau for Labor Statistics predicts that there will a an estimated {} in opportunities for dental hygienists.