Dental Hygienist School: Costs & Time It Takes to Graduate
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Table of Contents
- Dental Hygienist Job Functions
- Dental Hygienist Requirements
- Choosing a Dental Hygiene School
- Dental Hygiene School
- Popular Schools
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.
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
Licensure Requirements for Dental Hygienists
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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)
- 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.
Popular Dental Hygiene Schools
There are many choices when it comes to dental hygiene schools. You may begin looking in your immediate area, as in-state tuition is generally going to be a lot less expensive than attending a school out of state. Many universities even have a specific dental school attached to them.
Texas A & M University (TAMU), for example, is home to the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene, Texas A & M College of Dentistry. They offer a baccalaureate degree program in dental hygiene.
The Ohio State University College of Dentistry is the fourth largest public dental school in the country, offering both a bachelor’s and master’s degree option for dental hygiene with high exam pass rates. It is also a research school with a lot of opportunities for students.
At New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry, you have the option for either an associate or bachelor’s degree program in dental hygiene as well as fast-track options that can help you complete the program in less time. The AAS (associate in applied science) fast track takes 17 months to complete, while the BS (Bachelor of Science) can be completed in as little as 3 years.
Many local community colleges and technical colleges will also have an option for an AAS in dental hygiene. Check with local colleges to find out what options are available in your immediate area.
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.
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