How to Become a Dental Hygienist: Your Quick Guide to Success

Becoming a dental hygienist can be a rewarding career choice for those who are passionate about oral health and helping others maintain a beautiful, healthy smile. Dental hygienists are licensed professionals who work closely with dentists and patients, performing tasks such as teeth cleanings, taking x-rays, and educating individuals on proper oral hygiene practices. The path to entering this field requires dedication, as aspiring dental hygienists must meet specific educational and licensing requirements.

To begin pursuing a career in dental hygiene, individuals must first earn an associate degree at minimum, commonly in dental hygiene, from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) source. This typically involves around 86 credit hours of education and training and takes approximately three years to complete. Once the associate degree is obtained, aspiring dental hygienists must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, as well as an approved clinical board examination for their region or state source. These crucial steps ensure that individuals are prepared to excel in their roles as skilled dental hygienists.

Following the successful completion of these examinations, prospective dental hygienists must obtain licensure from the appropriate state dental board to practice in their chosen location. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so it is essential to research and adhere to the specific procedures in the state where one intends to work. With the right education, certification, and licensure in place, individuals are well-equipped to embark on a fulfilling career as a dental hygienist.

Dental Hygienist Education Requirements

Dental Hygiene Programs

To become a dental hygienist, the minimum level of education required is an associate degree from a school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Some aspiring dental hygienists choose to pursue a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in dental hygiene, which can lead to higher-level positions within the field.

Dental hygiene programs typically include both classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience. These programs cover subjects like oral anatomy, dental materials, radiology, periodontology, and oral hygiene practice management.

Accreditation and Admission Process

It’s essential to choose a dental hygiene program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). This accreditation ensures that the program meets the necessary educational standards for the dental hygiene profession.

The admission process for dental hygiene programs may vary by institution. Most programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED certificate, and some may require prerequisites or minimum test scores. Additionally, some programs may request letters of recommendation or require applicants to complete an entrance exam.

Coursework and Curriculum

Dental hygiene programs typically consist of a combination of general education and core dental hygiene courses. General education courses may include subjects like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and chemistry. Core dental hygiene courses cover topics such as:

  • Oral anatomy and tooth morphology
  • Dental materials and their application
  • Radiology and imaging techniques
  • Periodontology and preventive dental care
  • Local anesthesia and pain management techniques
  • Oral pathology, nutrition, and oral medicine

The curriculum also includes supervised clinical experience, which allows students to develop their skills in patient assessment, dental cleanings, and oral health education under the guidance of experienced dental professionals.

Obtaining a Dental Hygienist License

National Board Examination

To become a dental hygienist, one of the key requirements is passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE). The NBDHE is administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE) and is designed to assess a candidate’s understanding of the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary for the profession. The examination consists of:

  • A written component, which covers various subject areas relevant to dental hygiene practice;
  • A case-based component, which tests application of knowledge in realistic clinical scenarios.

It is crucial to thoroughly prepare for this examination to ensure success.

State Clinical Board Examination

After completing the National Board Examination, the next step is to pass the clinical board examination specific to your region or state. These clinical board examinations assess your ability to apply dental hygiene skills in a practical setting. Each state may have different requirements for clinical examinations, so make sure to check with your state’s dental board for specific guidelines and application procedures.

Continuing Education Requirements

Once you obtain your dental hygienist license, it is essential to maintain it by fulfilling continuing education (CE) requirements. States typically mandate a certain number of CE credits within a specific timeframe, often measured in years or license renewal cycles. Some common topics covered in CE courses are:

  • Patient care techniques
  • Advances in dental technology
  • Infection control practices
  • Dental health issues and prevention

It is important to stay up-to-date with your state’s CE requirements, as they ensure that you continuously improve and adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of dental hygiene. This not only enhances your expertise but also helps you provide the best possible care for your patients.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Dental Hygienist

Become a Dental Hygienist

Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Dental hygienists interact with patients and other dental professionals on a daily basis. Effective communication skills are essential for building rapport with patients, explaining procedures, and providing oral hygiene education. Being able to communicate clearly and empathetically is important, as well as being good at active listening.

Moreover, dental hygienists collaborate with dentists, dental assistants, and office administrators to manage patient appointments and provide personalized care for each patient, which requires excellent collaboration skills.

Attention to Detail

One of the key responsibilities of a dental hygienist is evaluating a patient’s oral health, identifying issues, and providing appropriate treatments. An eye for detail helps in spotting potential problems and ensures patients receive the proper care. Attention to detail also helps in keeping accurate patient records and maintaining a clean, sterilized work environment.

Dexterity and Physical Stamina

Dental hygienists perform delicate procedures in a patient’s mouth, often using precise and small instruments. Thus, having good hand-eye coordination and dexterity is essential for providing safe and effective treatment.

In addition, dental hygienists spend a significant portion of their day standing, moving around the clinical environment, and working with repetitive motions. Physical stamina is crucial for maintaining this level of activity throughout the day.

Having a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, and a commitment to continuing education are also essential qualities for a successful dental hygienist.

Remember, your ultimate goal as a dental hygienist is to provide the best possible care to your patients while working seamlessly with your dental team. Keep these skills and qualities in mind as you pursue this rewarding career!

Career Opportunities and Job Outlook

be a Dental Hygienist

Employment Settings

Dental hygienists can work in a variety of settings, such as:

  • Private dental practices
  • Public health clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Dental schools
  • Corporate dental offices

Dental Specialties

While working as a dental hygienist, you may find opportunities in various dental specialties, including:

  • Periodontics (gum care)
  • Orthodontics (tooth alignment)
  • Pediatric dentistry (children’s dental care)
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery

Advancement Opportunities

Dental hygienists may pursue further education and advanced degrees to advance their careers. Some areas of advancement include:

  1. Teaching: Dental hygienists with bachelor’s or master’s degrees can pursue teaching careers in dental hygiene programs.
  2. Research: Higher education can also open doors to research positions in dental care and oral health.
  3. Administration: Experienced dental hygienists can move into leadership roles in dental clinics or organizations, overseeing other dental health professionals.

The job outlook for dental hygienists is promising, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 9 percent growth in employment from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is largely attributed to the increasing demand for dental services from an aging population, and the need for dental hygienists to provide preventive dental care.

Keep in mind that to become a dental hygienist, you’ll need to complete an associate degree and meet education and certification requirements. Pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be necessary for certain advancement opportunities, such as teaching or research positions source.


In summary, becoming a dental hygienist involves several key steps. First, you need to earn an associate degree from an accredited dental hygiene program. This educational foundation ensures you have the knowledge and skills necessary for a career in dental hygiene.

Next, passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination is crucial. This examination tests your understanding of dental hygiene concepts and practical skills, and is required for licensure in most states.

After completing your education and passing the exam, obtaining your state license is the final step to become a dental hygienist. Remember that licensure requirements may vary by state, so it’s essential to research your specific state’s requirements.

Lastly, keep in mind the importance of continuing education. Dental hygienists are expected to stay updated with new developments in oral health care through ongoing education courses, ensuring they provide the best care possible to their patients.

By following these steps and pursuing your passion for dental hygiene, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful dental hygienist. The rewarding career path offers a positive job outlook, ensuring stability and growth opportunities in this vital health care profession.