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Dental Hygienist Programs

Dental hygienists help patients maintain good oral health by examining and cleaning teeth, as well as providing other dental care as needed. They also take and develop x-rays, apply sealants, plan treatments and teach patients how to keep up good dental care at home. In some states, dental hygienists can even create and place temporary fillings and periodontal dressings. They work closely with dentists and dental assistants to provide the best possible oral care for patients of all ages. 

As with many jobs in health care, dental hygienists are expected to see excellent job growth over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, it can potentially be a very a flexible career, as more than half of dental hygienists work part-time.

What are the degree requirements for dental hygienists?

In most cases, dental hygienists must complete an associate degree in the field before they can embark on a career in the field, the BLS reports. Many colleges offer associate degree programs, and some offer bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene as well. However, prospective students should be aware that some schools allow entry into the dental hygiene program only after the student has completed at least one year of college. Those who want to enter research, teach other students or practice in school health programs typically need a master's degree to do so.

Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; however, the requirements for licensing may vary. In most cases, students must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program and pass both written and practical exams.

Many schools offer dental hygienist degrees online, especially degree completion courses and master's degrees. Keep in mind that though the degree can be earned online, students need hands-on experience in order to complete the clinical aspect of licensing exams. The American Dental Hygienists' Association offers lists of available online and traditional programs, broken down by degree and state.

Are there financial aid options for dental hygiene programs?

Financial aid may be available to those who want to complete a dental hygienist program, from the federal government or other sources. Most students begin with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is the first step toward determining eligibility for various forms of financial aid. Some possible sources of financial aid include:

  • Pell Grants
  • Perkins Loans
  • Stafford Loans
  • PLUS Loans (designed for parents)
  • Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grants
  • Federal Work-Study Options

In addition to federal financial aid, students might be able to obtain grants, scholarships and loans from their state, as well as find financial assistance through their chosen school. Grants and scholarships are also available through state and local organizations, as well as dental hygienists organizations; for example, the ADHA offers scholarships, research grants, fellowships and service grants to qualifying students.

Job outlook for dental hygienists

Career opportunities for dental hygienists are likely to be booming, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of dental hygienists is expected to increase 33 percent nationally through 2022, much faster than the national average for all occupations, which is 11 percent. This growth will be driven by an aging population, heath legislation that offers dental coverage to more people, and an understanding of the link between oral health and general health.

In most cases, the BLS reports, dental hygienists work part-time in the offices of dentists, but there are other career opportunities available. The industries offering the highest levels of employment in 2012 were:

  • Dental offices
  • Physician offices
  • Employment services
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Federal Executive Branch (Federal, state and local governments)

Aside from the strong career growth predicted nationwide, certain states are likely to offer even better job prospects for dental hygienists, according to state labor department data aggregated by Projections Central. According to those numbers, the following states are expected to offer the best job growth through 2020:

  • Arizona: 52.9%
  • Virginia: 50.8%
  • Utah: 50.8%
  • Alabama: 43.7%
  • Indiana: 39.3%
  • South Carolina: 39.2%
  • District of Columbia: 35.5%
  • Kansas: 35.3%

Finding more information on dental hygienist programs

Information on dental hygienist degree requirements can be found through the numerous accredited schools, both online and traditional, that offer associate, bachelor or master's degrees in dental hygiene. Further information is available through national dental hygiene organizations, such as the ADHA, as well as state or local organizations for dental hygienists.

Sources:

"Dental Hygiene Programs," Education & Careers, American Dental Hygienists' Association,
http://www.adha.org/dental-hygiene-programs

"Scholarships and Grants," Education & Careers, American Dental Hygienists' Association,
http://www.adha.org/scholarships-and-grants

Types of Aid, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education,
http://studentaid.ed.gov/types

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Dental Hygienists, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292021.htm

Dental Hygienists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-1

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