How To Become A Dental Hygienist: The 5 Best Ways To Get There

By | February 13, 2024

Never before have dental hygienists had so many opportunities for their education and careers. With training that can be found in person and online, as well as work settings that go beyond the traditional clinic, there are more options than ever for launching your career.

If you’re interested in joining this rapidly growing field, read on to learn the steps you need to take to become a licensed dental hygienist.

Working side-by-side with a dentist, a dental hygienist’s primary concern is with the preventative oral healthcare of their patients. They clean teeth, examine gums, collect medical history, and educate their patients on oral care techniques.


How do you become a dental hygienist?

Working alongside a dentist can give you a close-up view of the entire dental practice. If you want to be a hygienist in an office, you must attend a dental hygiene school to obtain an undergraduate degree. Most schools offer general education, which includes a focus on the health care field and how to practice the profession in a health care setting.

Because of the similarities between dental hygienists and dental assistants, you can take courses online through the University of Michigan Extension.

The University of Maryland offers online classes for hygienists, and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association offers a portfolio exam, which can be taken online or in person. The CCRP examination, which is the entrance exam for dental hygienists, is available online in 25 states.


What does a dental hygienist do?

Technically, a dental hygienist isn’t even a dentist.

“The difference is a hygienist is not licensed to perform procedures,” says Nicki Leibowitz, DDS, spokesperson for the American Dental Hygienists Association. “As a certified dental hygienist, you can perform procedures, but it’s a different credential.”

Since hygienists aren’t trained to do the bulk of the dental work, they spend most of their time in the office, assisting their patients with a range of dental hygiene tasks. For example, they might apply fluoride varnish to teeth to prevent decay.

Their primary concern, though, is with the prevention of dental health problems. So, even if you’re under the supervision of a dentist, it can still be beneficial to hire a dental hygienist.

What it takes to be a Dental Hygienist?

What qualifications do I need to be a dental hygienist?

To become a licensed dental hygienist, you must first have a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene.

Dental hygienists with a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program must then complete three years of post-graduate training in which they specialize in aspects of dental hygiene. This means that you’ll attend two years of post-graduate training in order to qualify as a certified dental hygienist. If you have a bachelor’s degree and are currently working towards a master’s degree in the field of dentistry, you may still qualify as a dental hygienist.

After completing a pre-employment exam and background check, a dental hygienist is finally ready to start work.

How can I get the training and education I need to be a dental hygienist?

Before becoming a licensed dentist, dentist assistant, or dental hygienist, you can continue your education through a specialty program that includes continuing education units (CEUs) for training as a dental hygienist. CEUs are meant to supplement an individual’s education and should be applied to the specific program and educational subject matter.

For example, in order to become a dental hygienist, you will need more than your basic 4-year dental hygienist degree. To earn the dental hygienist certification, you will need to take specific training and education courses that cover a broad spectrum of dental hygienist knowledge. The courses will vary in length and will require more time and dedication to completing.

What work settings might there be for me after graduation?

There are two main training options for becoming a dental hygienist:


Unlike their counterparts in the medical field, dental hygienists do not have to go through a medical degree. Instead, they simply complete a bachelor’s degree in health science. Generally, students take a total of five years to complete their program. This is in contrast to a medical student, who usually must go to medical school first before becoming a dental hygienist.

While the dental hygienist programs do not offer five-year residencies, some do. Most of these dental hygienists, however, work under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

A dental hygienist under the supervision of a dentist performing oral exams and taking x-rays.

Traditional Work Settings

While the traditional work setting is rarely the choice of a dental hygienist, it is sometimes necessary to work with dentists in order to get a job. While many hygienists now have dental hygiene licenses, they can’t practice independently yet.

If you’re interested in working with a dentist, you should ask your prospective dentist whether they offer a hygienist on staff or if they will train you to take over for them in the future. If you do decide to pursue this option, it’s important to know that you won’t get paid for your time. Hygienists usually work on a per-treatment fee basis. In some cases, hygienists are also paid hourly and can’t turn down work.

Home-based Work Settings

Many home-based dentists operate in a manner similar to their clinic work. Their main focus is on the preventative oral health of their patients. A dental hygienist will follow them and offer the needed treatments and preventative oral healthcare at their home base.

Online work settings

Homebased dentists also operate using the Internet. Because home-based dentists are usually in charge of their patient’s entire health care, they work off-hours, at night, or on weekends to tend to their patients’ dental needs.

In many cases, these dentists require dental hygienists to work off-site and with them. Although the need for dental hygienists to work off-site may seem intimidating, there are a variety of work environments you can choose from.

What is a Dental Bridge

Dental bridge

When a bridge is utilized between two teeth, it is worn over one of the spaces in the jaw. They are very common and used by people who have gum disease or experienced trauma to the jaw.

A dental bridge can be made of synthetic materials or natural materials such as amber, wood, or stone.

If a bridge is desired, dental hygienists and dentists must develop a treatment plan, which will be communicated to the patient.

When the bridge is placed, the dentist or hygienist may need to evaluate the area to ensure it is aligned properly with the jawbone and dental arch. If it is to be secured to a prosthesis, the surgeon will complete the procedure.

There are other dental bridges that are able to be applied without surgery.

What do Dental Hygienist do

The job of a dental hygienist is not only a great job but a rewarding one. Dental hygienists are responsible for taking the preventative care of patients and making sure that the teeth and gums are well-groomed and healthy. The work varies from dentist to dentist, but dental hygienists generally maintain the health and hygiene of the teeth, gums, and dentures of their patients.

Many dental hygienists also perform fillings, extractions, scaling and gingivitis removal, and cleanings on crowns and root canals. Dentists hire a dental hygienist when they need to perform some procedures on a regular basis, such as sealants, fillings, and extractions, and there’s more work than that, but this list is a good starting point.


With an online school, training that lasts for as long as you’d like, and the opportunities to work alongside a team of other hygienists, you have so many options for becoming a dentist assistant today. Start exploring and see what suits you best.

Click here to sign up for a Dentistry Career Webinar Course today.

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