Dental hygienist at work

How to Become a Dental Hygienist in 4 Steps

Choosing to become a dental hygienist is a great idea if you are looking for a lucrative career with plenty of room for advancement. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people in this field made a median amount of $35.97 per hour or $74,820 per year in 2018. The job outlook is also expected to increase at a rate of 20% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than average. Essentially, this is a great time to choose this dental career path.

But how long does it take to become a dental hygienist and how many steps will it take? The truth is, you can enter this rewarding field in as few as four steps.


Step 1: Choose Between Becoming a Dental Hygienist and a Dental Assistant

It can seem like these two fields are pretty much the same, but they actually have several differences between them. As such, it’s important to ask yourself what you’re really looking for when it comes to your dental career path: a dental hygienist job or a dental assistant job.

According to Concorde Career Colleges, dental assistants made around half the annual salary that dental hygienists made in 2012. This is partly because dental assistants do not require the schooling that dental hygienists do, although it might still be necessary for the former to be licensed to operate an X-ray machine. Dental assistants sometimes provide treatments, such as polishing the patient’s teeth, but often, their jobs revolve more around scheduling appointments, managing billing, and sterilizing equipment.

On the other hand, dental hygienists are more focused on cleaning patients’ teeth, taking X-rays, providing preventive treatments, and assisting the dentist in procedures. If you are hoping to move through the dental career path to eventually become a dentist yourself, this may be a better starting place.


dental hygienist showing young patient an x-ray


Step 2: Get Your Associate Degree

In every state, dental hygienists must have at least an associate degree to practice. The best choice is usually an Associate for Applied Science (AAS) in Dental Hygiene degree, although there are some variations on this option. Many community colleges, dental schools, and vocational schools offer a two-year program that may allow you to get your AAS and begin practicing as a dental hygienist. Remember, the school and its dental program must be approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) for your degree to qualify you for this position.

Some people also choose to get a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree. While this might increase your salary potential, it isn’t necessary to help you get a job in the field. Once you do become a dental hygienist, however, you might start looking into other opportunities for dental professionals based on further education, so keep this possibility in mind.


dentist examining a patient


Step 3: Get Your License

You must have a license in order to work as a dental hygienist in any of the 50 states. It’s important to find out the exact credentials and requirements associated with your particular state in order to know what you will need. Some states require CPR certification or a college transcript to apply for licensure while others may not.

You will need to take the National Board Dental Hygiene’s (NBDHE) examination, which is split into two sections of multiple-choice questions. Every state also has a clinical exam that you must pass before you can receive your license. Once you do, you will be a registered dental hygienist.


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Step 4: Find a Job

Finding a dental hygienist job can sometimes be one of the most difficult parts of the process. Luckily, iHireDental is here to help you find dental jobs in your area that suit your interests and experience. You can search for one now, as well as receive help writing your resume.

By iHire | July 23, 2019
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