Becoming a Registered Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists rank as one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States. This is good news if you are considering the healthcare field of dental hygiene as a career path. The average salary of a dental hygienist varies, but according the median annual salary was $66,570 in May of 2008. Location is a large contributor to the variance in salaries with states like Washington, California and Alaska having the highest salaries of $90,000 and above.

So, now the question is what does it take to become a dental hygienist? To practice as a dental hygienist you will need to graduate from an accredited dental hygiene education program, pass a written national board examination and a state clinical examination to obtain licensure.

Education Requirements to Become a Dental Hygienist

Entry level programs that prepare graduates to become dental hygienists would include certificate, associate degree and baccalaureate degree programs. An associate's degree requires an average of 86 credit hours and a bachelor's degree requires an average of 122 credit hours. Master's degrees are also offered, but these are usually dental hygienists who are preparing for careers as educators, administrators and researchers. All dental hygiene programs should be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditations (CODA).

Both associate and bachelor degrees are considered entry level degrees for practicing in a private dental office or public clinic. While an associate's degree is sufficient for practicing in a dental office, a bachelor's degree offers a broader educational base and can lead to better career opportunities. Most programs will require at least 1 year of general college courses, like chemistry, English, speech, sociology and psychology prior to admission.

Licensing and Examinations

Once you've graduated from an accredited dental hygiene program you will need to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE). This is a written exam administered by the American Dental Association Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). After passing the written board examination you will need to successfully complete the Clinical State or Regional Board examination and your state licensing examination.