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Certified Dental Hygienist Career and Certification

Dental hygienists provide preventative health care, teeth cleanings and various other services essential to dental offices. Learn the typical duties of a dental hygienist as well as the education and certification requirements.

What You Need to Know

Nearly all states require that you obtain a degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation to work as a certified dental hygienist. Becoming certified is synonymous with obtaining licensure, which is required in all states.

Certification Licensing required through the American Dental Association for dental hygienists to work professionally; certification not required
Courses Dental nutrition, dental radiology, peroidontology, preclinical dental hygiene, orofacial anatomy, preventative dental hygiene care, dental materials, community dentistry
Career Outlook (2016-2026)* 20%, much faster than average job growth

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Career as a Dental Hygienist Entail?

As a dental hygienist, the majority of your day would be spent with patients, dentists and dental assistants. Some of your time would be spent in a teaching role, as you show patients how to practice proper dental care and achieve dental health. Other routine tasks would include:

  • Cleaning teeth
  • Removing plaque, deposits and stains
  • Examining patients' head and neck areas
  • Screening for oral cancer
  • Charting patients' dental procedures
  • Applying fluorides and other preventative materials to teeth

You would also examine patients' teeth, gums and mouths to look for disease and problem areas utilizing dental technology, such as hand rotary instruments, to maintain oral health. You might also take and develop x-ray images for the dentist to interpret.

What Training Programs Are Available?

The majority of programs take two years to complete and result in an associate degree. Certificate programs can exist as continuing education options for those who already have some experience in the field or as standalone programs that can take up to two years to complete. Your training in these programs will typically include supervised clinical fieldwork where you would perform patient care. Bachelor's and master's degree programs also exist in dental hygiene. These programs can qualify you for positions in administration, education or leadership in the field.

How Do I Get Certified?

There is no certification specific to this career. However, you must be licensed by your state to practice as a dental hygienist. After you complete your degree program, you will be eligible to sit for your written and clinical examinations. The clinical examination is administered by each state or by regional offices, and the American Dental Association (ADA) is responsible for the written examination (www.ada.org). Most states also require that you participate in continuing education and renew your license every few years.

What Is the Career Outlook for the Field?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that due to an aging population and an increasing emphasis on preventative health care, employment of dental hygienists will grow by 20% from 2016 through 2026 (www.bls.gov). Though employment is competitive due to this increased demand, job prospects for dental hygienists are favorable. As of May 2017, dental hygienists earned a median wage of $74,070 annually, according to the BLS.