What Can I Do with an Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene?

An associate's degree program in dental hygiene is valuable for those interested in pursuing a dental-related career. Read on to learn more the duties, employment outlook and salary of dental hygienists and dental assistants. Schools offering Dental Hygiene degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Associate's Degree Program in Dental Hygiene

Associate's degree programs in dental hygiene can be completed in two years and introduce students to dental-related topics in areas such as oral health and preventative dentistry. Programs focus on both theoretical and clinical education, offering students the chance to gain hands-on experience in the field. Common courses include oral anatomy, radiology, dental materials, pharmacology and dental hygiene techniques.

Associate's degree programs in dental hygiene are designed to prepare students to become licensed dental hygienists, but graduates have additional career options as well. Below are some career and education options available to those with associate's degrees in dental hygiene.

Important Facts About Career Options for Dental Hygiene Associate's Degree Holders

Dental Hygienist Dental Assistant
Professional Certification / Licensure Licensure is required in every state; requirements vary by state Not required by every state, but certification is available through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)
Key Skills Critical thinking; manual dexterity; attention to detail; empathy Active listening; organization; attention to detail; manual dexterity
Work Environment Offices of dentists; offices of physicians; outpatient care centers Offices of dentists; offices of physicians; Federal Executive Branch
Similar Occupations Dentists; medical assistants; physicians assistants; radiation therapists Nursing assistants and orderlies; occupational therapy assistants and aides; pharmacy technicians; surgical technologists

Dental Hygienist Career Info

Graduates of associate's degree programs in dental hygiene are typically qualified to take the exam to become licensed dental hygienists. Dental hygienists work in dental practices and are responsible for a variety of dental-related tasks. These employees may help collect patients' health information, perform teeth cleanings and take X-rays. All states require that dental hygiene professionals be licensed in order to practice. This typically includes the completion of an accredited dental hygiene education program and passing written and clinical exams.

Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow by 20% from 2016-2026, which is much faster than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also reported that dental hygienists earned an average salary of $75,500 as of May 2018.

Dental Assistant Career Info

Graduates of an associate's degree program in dental hygiene could also consider seeking a career as a dental assistant. While a degree is not always required for this position, some states do require dental assistants to be certified by the Dental Assisting National Board. These employees generally work in a dental practice and are responsible for many of the administrative tasks associated with this type of office. Dental assistants may help locate and organize patients' records, schedule appointments and greet patients. Although this type of position involves fewer clinical duties than that of a dental hygienist, dental assistants may occasionally assist with teeth polishing and X-ray processing.

The BLS predicts employment in this field to also grow faster than the national average, increasing 19% between 2016 and 2026; however, dental assistants' salaries are much lower. The BLS reported that the average salary of a dental assistant was $39,770, as of May 2018.

Further Study

One with an associate's degree in dental hygiene may pursue a bachelor's degree in the field. Many universities offer degree completion programs, which allow students to transfer credits earned during their associate's-level studies. Bachelor's degree programs generally introduce students to advanced dental topics and require further general education coursework. Bachelor's or master's degree programs in dental hygiene typically prepare students for research or teaching positions.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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