Dental Hygienist School: Costs & Time It Takes to Graduate

Dental Hygienist School: Costs & Time It Takes to Graduate
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Table of Contents

  1. Dental Hygienist Job Functions
  2. Dental Hygienist Requirements
  3. Choosing a Dental Hygiene School
  4. Dental Hygiene School
  5. Popular Schools
  6. Financing
  7. References

On average, a dental hygiene education takes about three years to complete.

The cost of dental hygienist school will be based on the program you choose, the length of time for the program, and where you go to school. There are many options to help you pay for dental hygienist school, including financial aid and payment programs.

Dental hygiene is a rapidly growing field. Employment opportunities are expected to grow faster than average for other occupations — 6 percent growth is expected from 2019 to 2029. Dental hygienists make close to $80,000 per year on average and require at least an associate degree from an accredited school.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Dental hygienists are an important part of any dental office, and they provide valuable support to patients. Their roles often involve handling many aspects of patient care, including these:

  • Review of a patient’s dental and medical history: By gaining insight into a patient’s health history through a comprehensive review, a hygienist is able to consider the risk of potential oral health problems and help prevent dental and medical emergencies. 
  • Screening of a patient’s mouth: Before a dentist works on a patient, the hygienist will examine for tooth decay and oral problems and disease. This is usually a quick process, but it’s important for identifying any issues early on.
  • Dental cleanings: Using an array of specialized tools, hygienists use techniques that they’ve learned through course and clinical work to remove stains, buildup, and plaque from teeth and gums. This not only improves the appearance of teeth, but it also prevents decay, cavities, and gum disease.
  • Dental x-rays: Dental hygienists may become familiar with many types of x-rays, as performing dental x-rays is an important part of the job. The images these x-rays capture allow the dentist to identify and assess problems like cavities, decay, infections, and even oral cancer and tumors.
  • Application of dental sealants and preventative care: Hygienists help patients to prevent oral health problems by applying treatments like fluoride (which strengthens teeth and prevents decay) and sealants (a protective material often used for children’s teeth).
  • Educating patients: Helping patients understand how to care for their teeth on a daily basis is an important part of a dental hygienist’s work. Using the knowledge they’ve acquired from their education and clinical experience, a hygienist can make a positive impact on a patient’s well-being by teaching them about the importance of good dental hygiene and the connection between oral care and overall health.
  • Documentation and dentist communication: Hygienists document and track a patient’s history, current dental state, and treatment. They also serve as a liaison between the dentist and patient, communicating the patient’s background and possible problems to the dentist and explaining treatment options and procedures to the patient.

Requirements to Become a Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental hygienist can be a lucrative and rewarding career choice, but there are some major requirements to be achieved before hitting the job market.

Educational Requirements

To work as a dental hygienist, you will need to complete at least an associate degree in an academic program. Dental hygiene academic programs must be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). 

There are over 300 CODA-accredited dental hygiene programs to choose from. These programs are going to focus on science and health care. They also include clinical and practical approaches to dental hygiene as well as hands-on learning opportunities.

You can go to school to become a dental hygienist at any of the following:

  • Community colleges
  • Technical colleges
  • Dental schools
  • Universities
Licensure Exams
To become a dental hygienist, students must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination as well as a regional or state clinical board examination.
Licensure Requirements for Dental Hygienists
Dental hygienists must obtain a state or regional license to practice, and licensure requirements vary from state to state. Generally, it’s required to successfully complete a CODA-accredited educational program and pass the national boards as well as a state or regional exam.

How to Choose a Dental Hygiene School

There are many dental hygienist programs to choose from, and it can be difficult to select the right option for your needs. It’s helpful to consider these factors:


There are programs across the country, but location is certainly a consideration. Are you looking for something close to your current home? Are you willing (or hoping) to relocate?

If you’re considering a move, it’s wise to factor in the job market. Do the locales you’re interested in have opportunities for dental hygienists? How does the pay compare to other markets in the country?

You may make connections and friendships during your education that could prove valuable in your career, so consider the long-term prospects before deciding on a new city or area.


The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the only agency that the United States Department of Education (USDE) allows to accredit dental and dental-related education programs at the post-secondary level. 

Any dental hygienist educational program you choose should be accredited by CODA. If you’re unsure or have any questions about accreditation, CODA’s website can be found here.

Program Type & Career Path

Depending on how much time and tuition you’re able to invest, and what you’re looking to achieve, there are generally three paths to choose from when it comes to selecting an educational program in dental hygiene.

  1. Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH): After completing an associate degree in dental hygiene, a student is eligible to take the board licensing exams and become a Registered Dental Hygienist. This license is required in every state. \ \ Coursework for RDH programs include dental public health, oral anatomy and embryology, and periodontology.
  2. Bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene: By completing bachelor’s degree curriculum as well as required classes for dental hygiene, a student may have more career options, such as becoming a dental hygiene educator or office administrator.\ \ Choosing the right minor in a field of interest, such as marketing or public health, can also be helpful in expanding your dental hygienist path. Coursework includes radiology, dental hygiene research, and local anesthesia.
  3. Master’s degree in dental hygiene: After completing their bachelor’s degree, a dental hygienist can pursue a master’s degree in dental hygiene, which will require two more years of education and help to open the door to leadership and education opportunities within the field.

    Coursework may include grant and contract writing, dental hygiene student teaching, and global health care.

Dental Hygiene School: Timeline & Costs

The cost and length of time it will take you to graduate depends on the exact program you choose and where it is located.

Associate Degree Programs

Costs of Dental Hygienist School

To become a dental hygienist, you must at least have an associate degree from an accredited school. This can include both community and technical colleges as well as dental schools.

An associate degree generally takes at least two years to complete. There are some dental hygiene programs that can be completed in as little as 17 months if you go to school full-time with no breaks.

On average, an associate degree for dental hygiene will cost you $22,692 in tuition if you are attending school as an in-state resident. If you are classified as an out-of-state resident, tuition typically costs more. 

This is the price for tuition only. It may not include the following:

  • Books and supplies
  • Room and board
  • Necessary dental hygiene instrument rentals or purchases
  • Medical insurance (required for students)
  • Transportation
  • Personal and/or miscellaneous expenses

A dental hygiene associate degree at a community college or technical college will generally cost less than one from a university or four-year school.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Often, a degree in dental hygiene can require nearly a year of prerequisite courses before entering into the degree program itself. This can make going for a bachelor’s degree an appealing choice. If it is going to take you three to four years to get your associate degree, it may be a better choice to get a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years to complete, instead.

With a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, you have the added option of being able to go into public health, teaching, or administration. You also have the opportunity to seek your master’s degree in dental hygiene or a related field.

On average, a baccalaureate degree in dental hygiene will cost $36,382 in tuition for in-state residents. You can usually graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years. It can sometimes take up to five years, or it can be fast-tracked to three years, depending on your school and full-time status.

If you are considering advancing your education and getting a master's degree, you can expect to pay around $30,421.

Financing for School Expenses

Community colleges often cost less than universities, which can save you money on a dental hygiene degree. Shorter programs are often less expensive, but they can be more intensive, so make sure you can commit to the intensity of the program you choose.

There are multiple ways to help pay for dental hygiene school.

Scholarship Opportunities
Check with local nonprofit and community organizations as well as the school you are interested in attending. All of these may offer scholarships that are based on merit, need, or a combination of both.
Offered through state and federal agencies as well as businesses, grants are similar to scholarships in that they do not have to be paid back.
Financial Aid
There are federal, state, and college-based financial aid options open for students. These are primarily based on financial need.
Student Loans
These will need to be paid back. They can provide you money up front to help pay for school expenses, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, and supplies.
Payment Programs
Schools may offer payment programs to break up tuition payments over time. This makes payments more manageable, so they can fit within your specific budget.
The cost of dental hygiene school can often pay for itself rather quickly as the field continues to grow. The degree can open more doors for you and provide financial opportunities quickly, so it’s generally worth the investment.


Dental Hygienists. (April 2021). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do? Regis College. Date fetched: September 28, 2022.

NBDHE General Information. (2021). Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). (2021). Commission on Dental Accreditation. Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

Search for Dental Programs. (2021). Commission on Dental Accreditation. Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

Program Costs. (2021). American Dental Education Association (ADEA). Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions. Dentistry Texas A & M University (TAMU). Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

College Overview. (2021). The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

Dental Hygiene Programs. NYU College of Dentistry. Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

FAQs about Dental Hygiene Education Programs and Accreditation. American Dental Hygienists Association. Date fetched: September 28, 2022.

Dental Hygienist Education and Training Requirements. (2021). American Dental Association (ADA). Date Fetched: July 5, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.