How Long Does a Dental Hygienist Have to Go School?

A dental hygienist assists a dentist by cleaning a patient's teeth and providing advice on oral health.

A dental hygienist assists a dentist by cleaning a patient's teeth and providing advice on oral health.

Cleaning a patient's teeth, providing advice on caring for teeth and gums, and checking for indicators of oral disease are all in a day's work for a dental hygienist. A career as a dental hygienist requires little college time, but brings a comfortable salary. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income for a dental hygienist is $68,250 per year, with 10 percent earning in excess of $93,000 annually. Once a dental hygiene degree has been obtained, certification is awarded upon passing a state exam. With a 38 percent anticipated job growth rate through 2020, the outlook is excellent for those in the dental hygienist field.

High School Courses

During high school years, students interested in becoming a dental hygienist should prepare by taking science courses related to this field. These include chemistry and biology. A good foundation in math is also necessary to prepare for college-level dental hygienist training. Take advantage of physical education courses to improve stamina, as dental hygienists often stand for long periods. Maintaining good grades is also a factor in being admitted to a dental hygienist program. For instance, Ferris State University requires dental hygienist students to have a 2.5 grade point average, plus a minimum score of 19 on the math portion of the ACT before being accepted into the program.

Associates in Applied Science Degree

Two years is the amount of time it takes to earn an associate in applied science degree in dental hygiene from most colleges if you attend on a full-time basis. For part-time students, the length of this entry-level program varies based on the number of courses taken each semester. At Kennedy-King College in Chicago, Illinois, six semesters is required over a two-year period for full-time students. Courses range from oral microbiology to anatomy of the head and neck, dental radiology and periodontics. Clinical courses and lab activities are prevalent.

Bachelor of Science Degree

A bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene is not required by many dental offices, but can lead to a higher salary for a hygienist. Full-time students wishing to pursue this higher degree should plan on two more years of college after earning the associate of applied science degree to become a dental hygienist. For example, the University of Alaska Anchorage dental hygiene program offers a baccalaureate-level course, with 120 course credits necessary to earn the advanced degree. This program covers restorative techniques and instructional methods in the dental hygiene field. The University of Bridgeport in Connecticut offers both a traditional route to the bachelor of science in dental hygiene, as well as an online program.

Master of Science Degree

The ultimate education level in the dental hygienist field is the master of science degree in dental hygiene. Graduate students learn about advanced dental hygiene practices, healthcare leadership, clinical administration and teaching. According to Eastern Washington University, students in the master of science degree program can finish within two years if attending full-time. A dental hygienist working part-time and taking courses on a part-time basis may spend an additional six years earning the degree.

About the Author

Kelli Peacock Dunn has been a news editor and photographer since 1998, working at a weekly newspaper in Northwest Florida. Her articles have also appeared in "Panama City Living" magazine and "The Lookout."

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