Selecting dental hygienist programs can provide a lucrative and interesting career choice for those who are interested. The qualifications necessary will vary although all dental hygienists who practice in the U.S. will need to be licensed by the state in which they plan to work. The programs are available from universities, community colleges, vocational schools and technical institutes. The requirements for entering a program that provides dental hygienist training will include:
- A minimum age of 18
- A high school diploma or a GED
- High school courses that include English, biology, math and chemistry
- A minimum of a ‘C’ average
- Scores from a college entrance examination
Other prerequisites may be required by different schools as each one will have certain requirements for entrance to dental hygiene programs.
Dental Hygienist Degrees
There are several dental hygienist programs that award associate’s degrees; however, some programs grant certificates, bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. The minimum requirement to practice in a dental setting is generally an associate’s degree or a certificate. If a career choice includes working in a venue such as a clinical practice in school health or public health program, a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree is required.
There are a number of programs that only accept applicants who have completed one year of college. Many prefer more than one year. There are bachelor’s programs that require two years before granting enrollment into a dental hygiene program as well as the successful completion of certain courses such as sociology or psychology, speech, English and chemistry.
A four-year program for a Bachelor’s of Science in Dental Hygiene may be taken by students who have graduated from high school or have a GED. This is also a program that is used by dental hygienists who have obtained certification or an associate’s degree in order to advance their careers.
Graduate degrees in dental hygiene are generally two-year programs. They are finished after the bachelor’s degree is obtained. The most common graduate courses are Clinical Instruction, Lab Instruction and Healthcare Management. As you can see, training in dental hygiene can include a number of choices.
What are Licensing Requirements?
After completion of one of the programs in dental hygiene, licensing must be obtained in the state in which a dental hygienist will work. The licensing exam consists of a clinical and a written examination. The written exam is administered by the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. This exam is recognized by all states as well as the District of Columbia.
The only exception within the U.S. that does not require students to take this written exam is the state of Alabama. Students who will practice here must meet the Alabama Dental Hygiene Program requirements. This includes completion of certain courses, training at a dental office and passing a licensing exam administered by the state.
Accredited Dental Hygienist Programs
Currently dental hygienist programs are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). This agency is under the American Dental Association although they have no input in the accreditation methods or procedures which includes the number of new programs that are accredited by CODA.
Their role is to support state efforts regarding regulation as well as setting entry level requirements for the programs. In addition, they may provide information to CODA. Their belief is that each state’s higher education authorities are the best suited to decide if additional training programs are needed locally and to assess the local job market.
Currently a goal of the American Dental Association is to raise the entry level minimum for dental hygienists. The implementation of a baccalaureate degree rather than an associate degree for this purpose is their goal. A reduction in the number of new programs is one reason for their stance since the majority only offers associate degrees.
The third strategy of ADHA is to aim to make the minimum entry level for dental hygiene practice a baccalaureate degree. The current minimum entry level is an associate degree, which the ADHA feels does not allow the development of a theoretical base within the profession. Changing the minimum entry level to a baccalaureate degree may reduce the number of new programs, many of which are only able to offer an associate’s degree.
Dental hygienist programs are available in a number of countries. Each country will have varied requirements and some may even require licensing to be renewed each year with proof of continuing education as a requirement for renewal.