How to Become a Dental Hygienist
The Definitive Career Guide

Avg. Salary

Education Duration
1-2 Years

Job Outlook

Have you always found teeth fascinating?

Are you the first one to tell a friend that they have something between their pearly whites?

Is flossing on the top of your priority list?

If you have a knack for oral hygiene and a love for working with others, then having a career as a Dental Hygienist might be exactly what you are looking for.

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What is a Dental Hygienist?

Working as a Dental Hygienist means that you will be up close and personal with patients’ mouths, cleaning their teeth, and checking for cavities.

A Dental Hygienist is the right-hand man to the dentist, assisting with x-rays, teeth cleanings, and many other tasks.

The role of a Dental Hygienist can be a great step into the world of dentistry, or it can become a fascinating career track.

To have great success as a Dental Hygienist, you must be knowledgeable about oral care and have a desire to help those in need.


You might expect to take a look at people’s teeth in this career, but there are other things that a Dental Hygienist must do on a daily basis.

Some of the things that you can expect to work on as a Dental Hygienist include:

  • Screen patients for oral health issues
  • Conduct dental cleanings
  • Apply treatments for preventative care
  • Educate about good hygiene
  • Counsel patients
  • Take impressions of teeth


Working as a Dental Hygienist in the United States can offer you around $77,810 a year on average.

Dental Hygienists with a Bachelor’s degree and many years of experience can even expect a salary of over $100,200 a year in some areas.

With minimal experience and education, it’s likely that you will make around $60,100 a year to begin.

There are many factors that can come into play when it comes to salary.

As a Dental Hygienist, working in larger populations and populations with higher socioeconomic statuses can offer more money.

Credentials can provide a higher salary as well, specializations and certifications offered through your employer or school are a great place to start.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $81,360


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$81,400
New Hampshire$82,660
New Jersey$87,070
New Mexico$84,480
New York$83,600
North Carolina$72,500
North Dakota$69,440
Rhode Island$77,140
South Carolina$65,440
South Dakota$74,600
West Virginia$61,050

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $115,510.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $115,510
California - $108,200
Washington - $106,200
Oregon - $94,420
Nevada - $89,460
* Salary information based on May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Dental Hygienists, OCC Code 29-1292, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Step 1 Earn a Degree

Starting out on your journey to becoming a Dental Hygienist, you will need to have some education.

Many Dental Hygienists choose to enter a dental hygiene program at a trade school or community college, while others choose to earn an Associate’s degree from a college or university.

It’s possible to take classes to become a Dental Hygienist online, however working an internship or doing lab work must be done in person.

Most Associates degrees take around two years to finish, and some Dental Hygienist programs can take anywhere from one year to 18 months to complete.

Some of the classes that you can expect to take in an Associates degree program are:

  • Biomedical Science
  • Dental Science
  • X-rays
  • Anatomy and Physiology

Step 2 Become Licensed

Having a degree as a Dental Hygienist is only the first part of the battle.

Next, you will need to take the licensure exam from the National Board of Dental Hygiene.

Some states may require other stipulations before you can become a licensed Dental Hygienist, including:

  • CPR Training
  • A specific number of hours of dental hygiene experience
  • Pass other state certification exams (When applicable)

Some of the areas to study for the National Board of Dental Hygiene Exam are:

  • Theory of practice
  • Knowledge of procedures
  • Medical terminology

The cost for the exam can vary by state, but most cost around $150 to apply for.

This licensure is good for 3-5 years, and in order to become licensed again, you must prove further education.

Step 3 Gain Experience

It may be that you had an internship throughout your schooling and you have landed a great job at a dentist’s office.

If not, there are several ways to gain experience as a Dental Hygienist, in order to make the most out of your career.

Some of the ways to gain exposure to the world of dentistry include:

  • Volunteering at summer dental programs for children
  • Internships
  • Shadowing a Dental Hygienist
  • Dental Hygiene sales
  • Educating the community on dental health
  • Researching and doing lab work

Having hands-on experience in this field is the most crucial way to learn about the career.

Step 4 Further Your Education

Once you have had a couple of years of experience as a Dental Hygienist, it may be time to think about furthering your education even more.

This can be done by earning a Bachelor’s degree in a dental hygiene program or another related area.

There are some colleges that accept Associate’s degree credits and will count them toward a Bachelor’s degree.

If an Associate’s degree credits are accepted, it can take as little as two more years to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

If not, it could take up to four years to finish this degree.

There are several areas that a Bachelors degree program will cover, including:

  • Oral Surgery
  • Dental Procedures
  • Anatomy
  • Dental Law and Ethics

These types of degree programs will also provide an internship and clinical lab work so that students have the opportunity to gain more experience through hands-on work.

Having a Bachelor’s degree can make it easier to gain promotions, raises, and lead you to a career beyond a Dental Hygienist including management and eventually working as a dentist.

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The minimum amount of education required to become a Dental Hygienist is a one-year program.

However, there are many Dental Hygienists who earn an Associate’s degree, which can take about two years to finish.

A one year program can provide entry-level jobs as a Dental Hygienist, but an Associates degree program will help gain raises, promotions, or other positions.

Most dental hygiene programs in community colleges or universities require that their students work an internship and do lab work in a clinical setting.

This provides the students with hands-on experience so that they don’t go into their first job as a Dental Hygienist with no qualifications.

Most programs require math and science skills, as well as a specific set of courses, including:

  • Dental Anatomy
  • Periodontics
  • Restorative labs
  • Biomaterials
  • Pharmacology
  • Head and Neck Anatomy
  • Patient Pain Management

Even though there are several one-year programs for Dental Hygienists, most employers require at least an Associate’s degree for entry level jobs.

However, if you are looking to extend your education and career opportunities, you may want to enroll in a Bachelor’s degree program.

These programs can last about four years but offer a variety of knowledge in different subjects.

Bachelors degree programs can offer students the opportunity to learn how to apply anesthesia, as well as other courses such as:

  • Humanities
  • Radiography
  • Special Patients
  • Behavioral Science
  • Dental Specialties
  • Dental Practice Emergencies

Once you have the appropriate education and experience as a Dental Hygienist, you will find that there are many more job opportunities available to you.

Some of the positions that you can expect in this field include:

  • Pharmaceutical sales
  • Public Health Officer
  • Dental Insurance Officer
  • Dental Hygiene Program Director
  • Hospital/Nursing Home Consultant

Earning a degree is important in this occupation, but the hands-on experience will provide the knowledge needed to extend your career.

Working with a variety of different people will also help, especially when learning about different types of dental issues and procedures.

Video About The Career


After earning a degree as a Dental Hygienist, it is legally required to become licensed.

The American Dental Hygienists Association is an accredited agency all across the United States.

Licensure is a way to show patients and employers that you are competent in your career.

States may have different requirements in order to earn licensure, but most require:

  • Graduation from an accredited program
  • Passing the national exam
  • Passing a state examination

Contact your local licensing agency in your state to find out what the rules are for where you live.

The exam that is required across the country for Dental Hygienists is the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.

There are many subjects on this exam, including:

  • Scientific Basis for Dental Hygiene Practice
  • Community Health
  • Research Principles
  • Clinical Dental Hygiene Services

On this exam, there are multiple-choice questions, fill in the blank questions, as well as statement and answer questions that must be completed.

Tests have around 350 questions, but some will not be graded.

In order to become licensed, you must pass the exam with at least a 75 percent score.

Some states require that Dental Hygienists take another exam in order to gain licensure.

This exam is the state exam, which is required in all states except for:

  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • New York
  • Connecticut

These states allow other forms of continued education as a requirement.

The test that must be taken in order to pass the state exam can vary.

Some states require the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment, other states require the Central Regional Dental Testing examination.

Make sure you understand the requirements for the state that you will be working in, not just living, as they can be different.

Once you become licensed as a Dental Hygienist, you will be able to work legally in any state in the United States.

Certification Example:

dental hygienist certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 1-2 Years

Most training programs to become a Dental Hygienist can take around one year to finish.

Nowadays, many employers are requiring a Dental Hygienist to enroll in a program that is at least two years or longer.

This is to ensure that the student has the experience and knowledge of the dental field.

With clinical lab work, an internship, and any other necessary requirements, it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to finish a program and become a Dental Hygienist.

Job Outlook

As the population ages, more people will be in need of dental care.

This is one of the reasons why there will be growth in this career of about 11 percent over the next decade.

Oral health has become increasingly popular over the years, requiring more Dental Hygienists, as well as other occupations in the dental industry.

Some of the aspects that can affect job opportunities in this career are the location of the dental office or medical facility, and the socio-economic status of that location.

Larger populations will likely have more career opportunities for Dental Hygienists, especially in areas with higher socioeconomic statuses.

Employment Growth Projection: 11%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 23,100

Should You Become a Dental Hygienist?

Overall Satisfaction: High

Overall Satisfaction

Dental Hygienist is ranked number one of the best healthcare support careers.

The high salary and the work/home life balance are good for this career, which creates greater satisfaction as well.

There isn’t much upward mobility within this career unless you gain more education, which can make it tedious for some.

If you enjoy working with people and have a desire to educate others on the importance of dental health, then you will be more satisfied in this career.

Earning degrees or certifications can also allow for promotions or raises that can raise satisfaction as well.

Average Salary: High

Average Salary

In the United States, the average Dental Hygienist can make around $77,810 a year.

However, when just beginning a career in this field, it is likely that you will make about $60,100 or less.

After many years of experience and further education, it’s possible to make over $100,200 in some areas as a Dental Hygienist.

Those who work in large populations like California or Washington D.C. will make more money, over $100,000 a year, than someone working in a smaller state.

For example, in Vermont, a Dental Hygienist makes $75,000 a year.

Depending on hands-on knowledge and the area in which you live, working as a Dental Hygienist can offer a great salary.

Job Growth Outlook: Medium

Job Growth Outlook

Starting your path toward becoming a Dental Hygienist is a smart idea, as this career will grow around 6 percent over the next decade.

This is about average for all careers in the dental field, due to the necessity for more oral care.

There has been increased popularity in oral health, which has caused an uptick in the demand for Dental Hygienists.

Many laws are being passed which will allow Dental Hygienists even more opportunities in the near future.

Working as a Dental Hygienist will be most satisfactory for those with further education and hands-on experience.

Education Duration: 1-2 Years

Education Duration

Most dental offices require at least an Associate’s degree in order to gain employment as a Dental Hygienist.

The average Associate’s degree program in dental hygiene can take around two years to finish.

This will include any externships or clinical work that needs to be done throughout your education.

Gaining a Bachelor’s degree can be useful for a Dental Hygienist as well.

Depending on the school, this can take another 2-4 years.

It takes anywhere from 2-6 years to become a Dental Hygienist.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

A Dental Hygienist must have good dexterity and be able to work with their hands for a long time.

That’s not the only ability that is required in this career.

Some of the skills that a Dental Hygienist should have include:

  • Communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to read data
  • Knowledge of medical tools
  • Knowledge of medical terms
  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Compassion for others
  • Empathy
  • X-ray skills
  • Positive attitude
  • Ability to work alone and with other
  • Diversity knowledge

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the average salary of a Dental Hygienist?

There are many ways to earn a great salary as a Dental Hygienist.

In fact, on average this career makes around $77,810 a year.

Having experience and education is a great way to earn more as a Dental Hygienist as well.

Those with hands-on knowledge of the dental industry will make close to $100,200 a year in some areas.

Dental Hygienists who work in states like California can expect larger salaries than someone working in Utah.

Utah boasts an average salary of $69,000 a year, while California claims $100,000 for its Dental Hygienists.


How long does it take to become a Dental Hygienist?

In order to have a great career as a Dental Hygienist, you are going to need to get an education.

Most Dental Hygienists earn an Associate’s degree, which takes around two years to complete.

This will include clinical work, lab work, and an internship.

For those with a desire for more education, they can earn a Bachelor’s degree.

This can take about four years to finish and can open many doors for aspiring Dental Hygienists.


What does a Dental Hygienist do?

A Dental Hygienist is someone who works closely with a dentist in order to make sure the patient’s teeth are healthy.

From exams to x-rays, a Dental Hygienist will look at all parts of your mouth.

They may also clean your teeth, apply sealants, or do other procedures to teeth as well.

A Dental Hygienist will also educate their patients on dental hygiene and oral health in general.


What is the demand for Dental Hygienists?

Oral health is becoming increasingly popular, which means that this career will grow over the next decade.

People who are looking for a career as a Dental Hygienist should start now, as this career is going to rise 11 percent.

Along with many other careers in the medical field, Dental Hygienists will be needed for many years to come.

Demand for Dental Hygienists with education and licensing is higher, and this group will likely find employment faster than those with no education.


How much does it cost to become a Dental Hygienist?

In order to work as a Dental Hygienist, you must earn an Associate’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree.

The most popular degree is an Associates, which can take about two years to finish and costs around $15,000.

Some community college or trade programs can cost less, anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.

If you are going to earn a Bachelor’s degree, then you should expect to pay closer to $40,000 to become a Dental Hygienist.

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