What is a Dental Hygienist Associate Degree?
Dental hygienists assess oral health, complete oral cleanings, provide patient education, and assist dentists with exams and procedures. Though often confused, the job of a dental hygienist is different from that of a dental assistant or an x-ray technician. Here, we will cover some of the things that make up the dental hygienist profession.
To become a dental hygienist, an associate degree program can provide the education you need to pass the national and state licensure exams and begin your career. An associate degree typically takes less time to complete than a bachelor's or master's degree. Dental hygienist associate degrees are usually completed at a community college or technical school, but online programs are also available. An associate degree in dental hygiene will teach students how to provide preventative dental care, perform various treatments and help patients with their oral health. Education occurs inside a classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings, making learning to become a dental hygienist hands-on at times. Classes typically consist of both general education and subjects specific to dental hygiene and oral care. Students may be able to use credits earned from the associate degree program later on for a bachelor's or master's degree.
The Best Dental Hygienist Associate Degree Programs
|School||Tuition*||Placement Services||Career Services||Accepts|
|1||Shoreline Community College||$4368||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|2||Santa Rosa Junior College||$4510||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|3||North Dakota State College of Science||$5280||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|4||Northern Wyoming Community College District||$10446||No||Yes||AP Credits|
|5||William Rainey Harper College||N/A||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|6||Chabot College||$14696||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|7||Flint Hills Technical College||N/A||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|8||Lamar Institute of Technology||$6576||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|9||Diablo Valley College||$4800||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|10||Ferris State University||$12376||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|11||Chippewa Valley Technical College||$2552||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|12||Hudson Valley Community College||$4998||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|13||Weber State University||$4990||Yes||Yes||AP / ACE Credits|
|14||Lewis and Clark Community College||$19120||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|15||University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus||$18628||Yes||Yes||AP / ACE Credits|
|16||Colorado Northwestern Community College||$18628||Yes||Yes||AP / ACE Credits|
|17||Lake Superior College||$3762||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|18||Waukesha County Technical College||$4200||Yes||Yes||AP / ACE Credits|
|19||Carl Sandburg College||$1650||No||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|20||Minnesota State Community and Technical College||$1394||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|21||Central Community College||$2909||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|22||Northeast Wisconsin Technical College||$5654||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|23||Fox Valley Technical College||$4840||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|24||Iowa Central Community College||N/A||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|25||Wytheville Community College||N/A||No||Yes||AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits|
|26||Virginia Western Community College||$1380||No||Yes||AP / ACE Credits|
|27||Illinois Central College||$4324||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|28||Lake Land College||$4800||No||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|29||Dodge City Community College||$4110||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|30||Roane State Community College||$1330||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|31||Amarillo College||$4556||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|32||State Fair Community College||N/A||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|33||Pearl River Community College||$15690||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|34||Wayne Community College||$9588||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|35||Pasadena City College||N/A||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|36||Catawba Valley Community College||$4838||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|37||Meridian Community College||$5715||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|38||North Central Missouri College||$5072||No||Yes||AP Credits|
|39||George C Wallace State Community College-Hanceville||$5570||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|40||Indian Hills Community College||$6495||Yes||Yes||AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits|
|41||Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College||$11306||Yes||Yes||AP / ACE Credits|
|42||East Mississippi Community College||$4368||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|43||New York University||$50684||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|44||Des Moines Area Community College||$4572||Yes||Yes||AP / NCCRS Credits|
|45||Western Kentucky University||$10802||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|46||Halifax Community College||$2506||Yes||Yes||AP Credits|
|47||Kirkwood Community College||$1257||No||Yes||AP Credits|
|48||Harcum College||N/A||Yes||Yes||AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits|
To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit our ranking methodology page.
*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Why Should I Get a Dental Hygienist Associate Degree?
There are many reasons to earn a dental hygienist associate degree.
- An associate degree takes two years instead of the four years a bachelor's degree typically takes.
- Dental hygienists may have weekends off and can choose to work full-time or part-time.
- As a growing field, dental hygienists are always needed to fill positions.
- The salary is competitive.
- Dental hygiene is a rewarding career. Dental hygienists help others take care of and improve their health and potentially avoid some diseases.
- A day in the life of a dental hygienist is always different, making it an interesting field.
- A typical day of work is also very hands-on and active, so there will not be much sitting behind a desk.
- You can build a lifelong career as a dental hygienist right out of school, or choose to advance your career as a dentist, researcher, professor, or other specialized roles in dental hygiene and oral health.
The career outlook for dental hygienists is promising. We will cover this in detail below.
How to Choose a Dental Hygienist Associate Program
There are many things to consider when choosing a dental hygienist associate degree program. One of the first decisions to make is whether you want to attend classes in person or online. This decision will probably need to be made based on your location to schools, your schedule, and availability, and any other personal reasons that may or may not require you to take classes online or in person.
The cost of the program is an important factor for many people. It would be best to know how much you or your family can pay for the degree before choosing a program. You may also want to decide whether you would like to attend a program with large or small class sizes. Different programs also offer different coursework, so knowing what classes you would most like to take could be helpful in choosing a program. Remember, obtaining an associate degree means you can start working as a dental hygienist after about two years of education, and it also means you can obtain a bachelor's and/or master's degree later in your career if desired. Finally, make sure the program you choose is accredited by the CODA (Commission on Dental Accreditation).
Application and Admissions for Dental Hygienist Associate Degree Programs
A high school diploma or GED will be required to apply to any dental hygienist associate degree program. Although usually not required, high school courses in biology, health, psychology, chemistry, and speech may be helpful during the admissions process. Specific requirements vary by associate degree program, but your high school GPA and college entrance test scores will also be considered. The average required high school GPA is 2.5 Be sure to know the exact application requirements for the schools to which you are applying. Other common items needed for your application include high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume, extracurricular activities, criminal background check, CPR certification, and a personal statement. Most schools only allow admission once a year, so being aware of application deadlines and class start dates is essential when applying for programs.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Dental Hygienist Associate Degree?
The average length of a dental hygienist associate degree program is two years, although some programs may be longer, or some students may need to take classes part-time. The average dental hygienist associate degree program requires 84 credits of completed coursework before graduation. You can also expect to complete hands-on, supervised clinical practice while obtaining your degree. You will need to study for both a national and state licensure exam once your degree is complete before you will be considered a registered dental hygienist.
How Much Does an Associate Degree in Dental Hygienist Cost?
An associate degree in dental hygiene will be the most affordable degree option. According to the American Dental Education Association, the average cost of an associate degree is $22,692, or about $270 per credit hour for programs requiring an average of 84 credits. Of course, the program you choose could cost more or less than that depending on the location, the number of credit hours, or other factors decided by the school. Another factor that will decide how much your tuition costs is whether the program is in-state or out-of-state. In-state tuition is typically much less expensive than out-of-state. Other costs to consider are books, supplies, room and board, transportation, other personal expenses.
Associate Degree Coursework
You will be required to take both general education courses and courses specific to dental hygiene while completing an associate degree program. There may be room to take electives depending on the program you attend. You will be required to complete any general education credits you did not obtain in high school. Below is a general overview of common course subjects for a dental hygiene program according to the American Dental Education Association. This list includes both general education and degree-specific courses.
- General chemistry
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Biology and/or microbiology
- Introduction to dental hygiene
- Dental anatomy
- Oral pathology
- Oral radiology
- Oral health education/preventive counseling
- Patient management
- Community dental health
- Dental hygiene patient care
How Much Can I Earn with an Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene
According to PayScale, the average hourly wage for a dental hygienist is $34.80 per hour. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS reported in 2020 that the median salary for a dental hygienist was $77,090 per year. The lowest 10% of dental hygienists make less than $54,000 while the highest 10% of dental hygienists earn over $104,000. Average salaries are also dependent on location and cost of living, with rural locations typically providing lower salaries when compared to urban locations. Dental hygienists working in a dentist's office tend to make more than those working in other physician's offices or working for the government. The pay for advanced roles in dental hygiene is higher and these roles are for those who have received a bachelor's or master's degree.
Begin a Career as a Dental Hygienist
With a dental hygienist associate degree, you can work as a dental hygienist in a variety of settings, such as a private dental office, schools, public health settings, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. You will be required to pass both a state and national board exam to start working as a dental hygienist.
Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral decay or diseases, complete teeth cleanings, and provide patient education regarding oral health. More duties of a dental hygienist include:
- Take oral x-rays
- Report findings of the oral exam to the dentist
- Educate patients on tooth brushing, flossing, and general oral health
- Remove buildup, tartar, and plaque from teeth during cleanings
- Complete documentation or charting reports after patient visits and procedures
You will need to be comfortable using various tools at work. These may include power tools or lasers to be used during cleanings and procedures. Good communication and interpersonal skills will also be needed for talking to patients and working with the dentist.
The BLS reports the median salary for dental hygienists with an associate degree as $77,090, as of May 2020. Salaries of dental hygienists will vary by state; the highest paying state is Alaska, with California coming in a close second.
According to the BLS, the job outlook for dental hygienists is positive, as jobs in the field are expected to increase by 6% between 2019 and 2029. As with most other healthcare careers, the need for dental hygienists is growing due to the large number of aging baby boomers requiring dental care. Due to this promising career outlook, admissions into a dental hygienist associate degree program can be competitive.
Certifications & Licensure for Dental Hygienists
Like many other healthcare professionals, dental hygienists must be licensed. Being licensed is both important and necessary, as it lets patients and dentists know that dental hygienists have passed a board exam and met several education requirements. Only a licensed dental hygienist can legally perform the job duties. Licensure protects patients from having unqualified individuals work on them; it also protects them from any unsafe practices.
To obtain a license, a dental hygienist student must graduate from an accredited program, pass a national board exam and pass a regional or state board exam. Each state has different licensure requirements, so it is important to understand your state's rules. Most states require continuing education for dental hygienists to maintain their credentials.
Accreditation for Dental Hygienist Associate Degree Programs
The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the accreditation agency of dental hygienists and other dental educational programs. The job of CODA is to make sure all dental hygienists receive the education needed to perform their jobs to high professional and ethical standards. CODA also works to maintain and improve the quality of educational programs in the dental field. A person must graduate from a degree program accredited by CODA to sit for the board exams and become a dental hygienist.
Career Advancement in Dental Hygiene
Obtaining a dental hygienist associate degree is the fastest way to become a dental hygienist. Having an associate degree means being able to work as a dental hygienist in a clinical setting. However, some dental hygienists with an associate degree decide to go back to school at some point to advance their careers.
Having a bachelor's or master's degree in dental hygiene would open additional doors for opportunities. Dental hygienists with bachelor's or master's degrees can work in specialized areas of the field, such as public health, research, education, or for the government. It is also possible to obtain various certificates, such as restorative dental hygiene or local anesthesia, to advance a career in dental hygiene. Continuing education credits are also available to increase the knowledge of a dental hygienist.
What Are Other Dental Hygienist Degree Options?
There are other degree options besides an associate degree for a career in dental hygiene. You may decide to earn your bachelor's or master's degree later on after you have obtained an associate degree in dental hygiene.
Bachelor's Degrees in Dental Hygienist
A bachelor's degree in dental hygiene typically takes four years to complete. Obtaining a bachelor's degree may mean more opportunities for career advancement after graduation. Those who earn a bachelor's degree often want to specialize in a certain area of dental hygiene, such as schools or public health. If you already have an associate degree in dental hygiene then earning a bachelor's degree in the field would take less than four years, as much of the coursework would have already been completed in the associate degree program.
Master's Degrees in Dental Hygienist
A master's degree in dental hygiene may be best for those wanting to go into teaching, administration, or research in the field. Admissions into a master's degree program will require a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene as well as dental hygienist licensure. You will also need to take the GRE and pass with a score accepted by your desired program. Obtaining a master's degree takes an average of 1-2 years.
Doctoral Degrees in Dental Hygienist
There is not a doctoral-level degree program specific to dental hygiene at this time, but there may be one in the future. However, it is possible to obtain a Ph.D. or doctorate in a subject related to dental hygiene. There are doctoral-level programs in subjects like oral biology and health sciences that a dental hygienist may choose to pursue. Doctoral degrees take anywhere from two and a half to five years of additional education.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Dental Hygienist Associate Degrees
Scholarships, grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid are available for those obtaining a dental hygienist associate degree. Options range from federal financial aid programs to scholarships coming directly from various organizations and schools. Types of financial aid include scholarships, grants, loans, work-study jobs, aid for military families, tax benefits, and aid for studying abroad. Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what financial assistance they may qualify for.
Members of the American Dental Hygienists Association can apply for scholarships and grants through the ADHA website. Individual schools and universities also typically have scholarships for which you can apply. Requirements for scholarships, grants, and other types of financial aid, typically depend on academic success and financial need.