How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Explore the steps to becoming a dental hygienist, from earning a degree to receiving state certification. Discover average dental hygienist salaries.
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  • Dental hygienists must have an accredited degree and state licensure to practice.
  • Hygienists provide patients with cleanings, preventative treatments, and education.
  • Supervision rules and scopes of practice for dental hygienists differ by state.

As a kid, did you actually look forward to going to the dentist while everyone you knew dreaded it? Do cleanings and fillings sound fun, rather than unpleasant? Are you fascinated by what's going on in your mouth as someone pokes and prods at your teeth?

If your answers are "yes," then we're on to something. You may want to become a dental hygienist. Here's how to jumpstart your career. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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5 Steps to Becoming a Dental Hygienist

Regardless of a person's state and employer, the basic requirements for these professionals are the same:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or GED certificate.
  2. Graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program.
  3. Pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) from the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE).
  4. Pass an approved clinical board examination for your region or state.
  5. Obtain licensure from the appropriate state dental board.

To become a dental hygienist, individuals need to be licensed within the state they practice in. Since dental hygienists have different professional capabilities and limitations depending on their state, the licensing requirements can change with location. Employers also have their own sets of demands, which might result in more specific entry requirements.

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What Is a Dental Hygienist?

Dental hygienists focus on oral healthcare and disease prevention. Depending on where they work, they may provide care directly via examinations and cleanings or indirectly via information and education.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Dental hygienists play a substantial role in helping patients improve their oral health. They look for signs of disease and treat the issues before they get worse with cleanings, preventative measures, and patient education. They work with various instruments, powered tools, and X-rays.

These professionals:

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    Examine patients' mouths for oral health concerns, such as plaque and tartar buildup and gum disease.
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    Diagnose conditions and develop treatment plans within their scope of practice.
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    Clean teeth by removing plaque and stains using various tools and techniques.
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    Provide preventative information and treatments, such as applying sealants and fluoride.

Where Do Dental Hygienists Work?

The majority of dental hygienists work in dental offices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 94% of dental hygienists worked in private and community dental offices in 2021.

Most dental hygienists have an associate degree. A bachelor's degree in dental hygiene can increase your employment opportunities in hospitals, health clinics, community centers, and school settings.

Certification and Licensure Process for Dental Hygienists

In every state, the dental hygienist requirements for employment include licensure. For licensure, you must complete an accredited postsecondary program and pass the national written examination. You will also need to pass an approved clinical examination for your region or state, such as:

Once you meet your regional requirements, you can apply for licensure with your state licensing board. Licensed hygienists must renew their licenses every 1-2 years by completing varying amounts of continuing education each cycle.

Dental Hygienist Salary and Job Demand

Projected employment growth, 2021-2031


Median salary, 2021


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The growing understanding of and respect for oral health have increased the need for dental hygienists. Evolving regulations and expanded roles for dental hygienists will likely also continue to shape the profession and drive demand.

Top 5 Paid States

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Nevada

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Dental Hygienist

How long does it take to become a dental hygienist?

The quickest path to becoming a dental hygienist takes about two years. Nearly every state requires dental professionals to graduate from a dental hygiene program accredited by the American Dental Association.

You can finish all the requirements for an associate degree in dental hygiene in about two years if you're a full-time student. A part-time student can finish in about three years.

In comparison, a bachelor's degree takes 4-5 years to earn, depending on if you're a full-time or part-time student.

Is being a dental hygienist a good job?

Yes. Dental hygienists provide a very valuable service to individuals and communities. Not to mention, the BLS projects about 19,000 new dental hygienist positions will be created between 2021 and 2031.

Plus, you can make up to six figures. The top 10% of hygienists earned more than $100,200 in May 2021, while 90% of professionals earned more than $60,100.

What's the difference between a dental hygienist vs. a dental assistant?

Dental hygienists work closely with licensed dentists, cleaning patients' teeth and looking for signs of dental problems. A dental assistant helps the dentist during cleanings and fillings by holding tools such as mirrors and suction tubes. They also handle administrative tasks, like scheduling appointments, billing patients, and stocking supplies. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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