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


Dental Hygienist

Are you interested in a career that combines healthcare, patient interaction, and flexibility? Becoming a dental hygienist may be the perfect path for you. Dental hygienists are important in the dental team. They do preventive oral care, educate patients, and work with dentists to promote good oral health.

This guide will explain how to become a dental hygienist, including education, licensing, skills, job outlook, and more. Let’s dive in!

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Before we explore how to become a dental hygienist, it’s important to understand the role and responsibilities. Typical duties include:

  • Performing dental cleanings to remove plaque and tartar
  • Taking and developing dental x-rays
  • Assessing patients’ oral health and documenting findings
  • Applying fluoride treatments and sealants to prevent cavities
  • Educating patients on proper oral hygiene techniques
  • Assisting dentists during procedures
  • Managing patient records and treatment plans

Dental hygienists work in a variety of settings, such as private dental practices, community health clinics, schools, and hospitals. Many enjoy a flexible schedule, working full-time or part-time.

Dental Hygienist Education Requirements

To become a licensed dental hygienist, you’ll need to complete an accredited dental hygiene program. Here are the typical steps:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Focus on courses in biology, chemistry, and math to prepare for college-level science classes.
  2. Complete prerequisites. Many dental hygiene programs require prerequisite courses, such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. These can often be taken at a community college.
  3. Enroll in an accredited dental hygiene program. Most dental hygienists earn an associate degree, which typically takes 3 years to complete. Some may choose to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree for advanced roles. Look for programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

During your dental hygiene program, you’ll take courses in areas like:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Dental materials
  • Radiography
  • Periodontology
  • Clinical dental hygiene

Programs also include hands-on clinical experience to develop your skills in patient care, instrumentation, and technology.

Dental Hygienist Licensure and Certification

After completing your accredited dental hygiene program, you’ll need to obtain licensure to practice. Requirements vary by state but generally include:

  1. Pass the National Board of Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE). This comprehensive written exam covers the dental hygiene curriculum to ensure mastery of essential knowledge.
  2. Successfully pass a regional or state clinical board exam. This demonstrates your clinical skills and competency in providing patient care. Common regional exams include CRDTS, WREB, and CDCA.
  3. Apply for state licensure. Submit your NBDHE and clinical exam scores, proof of education, and any other required documentation to your state dental board. Some states may also require a background check, CPR certification, or an interview.
  4. Ensure that you keep your license current and valid. Complete continuing education courses and renew your license every 1-3 years, depending on your state’s requirements.

Some dental hygienists choose to specialize in pediatric dental hygiene or periodontal therapy to improve their skills and career prospects.

Essential Skills for Dental Hygienists

In addition to technical knowledge and clinical abilities, dental hygienists should possess the following key skills:

  • Ensure effective communication by providing clear and detailed explanations of procedures and oral hygiene instructions to patients. Communicate effectively with dentists and team members.
  • Interpersonal skills: Put patients at ease, listen to their concerns, and build rapport. Work collaboratively with colleagues.
  • Attention to detail: Follow precise clinical protocols, accurately document findings, and maintain patient records.
  • Problem-solving: Adapt to patient needs, troubleshoot equipment issues, and handle scheduling changes.
  • Manual dexterity: Manipulate small dental instruments with precision and control.
  • Time management: Stay on schedule while providing thorough patient care and completing administrative tasks.

Improving these skills in school and continuously enhancing them in your career will aid in your success as a dental hygienist.

Dental Hygienist Career Outlook and Salary

The need for dental hygienists is increasing because people are becoming more aware of the importance of oral health and there are more elderly people. According to the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of dental hygienists will increase by 11% from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the average growth for all occupations.

In terms of salary, dental hygienists earn a competitive wage. The median annual pay for dental hygienists was $77,810 in May 2021. Factors that can impact earnings include location, experience, type of employer, and specialty certifications.

Advancing Your Dental Hygiene Career

As you gain experience as a dental hygienist, you may want to explore opportunities for career advancement. Options include:

  • Specializing in a particular area, such as pediatric dentistry, periodontics, or public health.
  • Pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree to qualify for roles in education, research, or administration.
  • Taking on leadership positions, such as a lead hygienist or clinic manager.
  • Exploring alternative settings, like corporate dental companies, insurance companies, or dental supply manufacturers.

Continuing education, improving skills, and staying updated with industry trends can help you advance in your dental hygiene career.


Becoming a dental hygienist is a rewarding career path that combines healthcare, patient interaction, and flexibility. Completing a dental hygiene program, passing licensure exams, and developing key skills can help you enter the growing field of dental hygiene and make a difference in patients’ oral health.

To become a dental hygienist, research accredited programs, consult with practicing hygienists, and gain shadowing experience. With dedication and a passion for helping others, you can build a fulfilling career in dental hygiene.

Ready to take the first step towards becoming a dental hygienist? Explore accredited dental hygiene programs near you and start your journey today!

Can I become a dental hygienist with a bachelor’s degree?

While most dental hygienists earn an associate’s degree, some programs offer a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. This can provide a more comprehensive education and potentially better job prospects or opportunities for advancement.

How long does it take to become a dental hygienist?

The typical path takes two to three years to complete an associate’s degree program, followed by obtaining a license. Bachelor’s degree programs take four years, while master’s degrees can add an additional two years.

Is dental hygiene a good career?

Yes, dental hygiene is an excellent career choice for those interested in healthcare and working with people. It offers job security, competitive salaries, flexible schedules, and the opportunity to make a positive impact on patients’ oral health.

What’s the difference between a dental hygienist and assistant?

Dental hygienists are licensed professionals who perform cleanings, take X-rays, and provide preventive care. Dental assistants perform supportive duties like sterilizing instruments and handling administrative tasks.

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