Dental hygienists examine and clean teeth, and help dental patients maintain good oral health. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that employment growth for dental hygienists would be 38 percent from 2010 to 2020. It also reported that they earned an average of $70,700 per year as of May 2012. To become a dental hygienist, students can earn an entry-level certificate or complete an associate degree or bachelor's degree program. Certificate programs are relatively rare, however, with the American Dental Hygienists Association listing only eight programs available as of 2013.
According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, both associate and bachelor's degree programs have the same average amount of hours dedicated to patient care. Dental hygiene classes cover topics such as oral health education, patient management and emergency care. Other dental courses cover dental materials, radiography, pain control, and anatomy of the head and neck. Students may also need to complete general education courses spanning topics including sociology, English and psychology. In addition, all programs require an average of 684 hours of clinical training, either in program facilities or external community health care centers.
Associate degree programs in dental hygiene require an average of 86 credit hours, 2,860 instructional hours and 535 clinical hours dedicated to patient care. An associate degree can typically be completed with two years of full-time work, and is less likely to offer specialization options than a bachelor's or master's degree in dental hygiene. The American Dental Hygienists Association lists the estimated average cost for an associate degree in dental hygiene at $36,463, and noted 290 available associate degree programs in the U.S. in 2013.
Bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene typically take four years to complete. They include an average of 3,073 hours of instruction and an average of 122 credit hours. As with many professional degrees, some programs require students to complete general prerequisite courses in their first two years before applying for admission to the last two years of the professional program. In general, these programs have more coursework devoted to chemistry, patient management and writing than associate degree programs. According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, bachelor's degree programs provide an average of 607 patient care-related clinical hours for students.
Both associate degree and bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene prepare students for entry-level positions working as dental hygienists in dental offices, health centers and other places of employment. Bachelor's degree programs, however, prepare students for a wider variety of jobs, including those in education, research and public health. Dental hygienists who earn a certificate or an associate degree can enter a degree completion program to earn a bachelor's degree in less than four years. Those with a bachelor's degree can enter one of 22 master's degree programs in dental hygiene.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Dental Hygienists
- American Dental Hygienists' Association: Dental Hygiene Education
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2012 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
- The Ohio State University: Entry Level Dental Hygiene Program
- University of Bridgeport: Dental Hygiene (A.S.)
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