FAQ: What Degree Does a Dental Hygienist Need? (With Salary Info)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 7, 2021

A career in dental hygiene allows professionals to work with various experts in the dental industry and interact with patients regularly. Dental hygienists offer preventive care to help patients avoid oral diseases and damage. If you're considering becoming a dental hygienist, reviewing answers to frequently asked questions, such as ones concerning the degree a dental hygienist needs, may be helpful in your pursuit of this career. In this article, we define the role of a dental hygienist, describe what they do and discuss what degree they typically need to become one.

What is a dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a health care professional who works with dental office managers, assistants and other professionals to ensure that patients maintain their oral health. They usually interact with children and adults and prioritize the prevention of oral disease through cleanings, recommendations and treatments. Successful dental hygienists often understand how to communicate with patients to create tailored treatment plans. Health situations a dental hygienist may handle include how to treat cavities, how to maintain proper dental hygiene or communicating with a patient about considering braces.

Read more: Learn About Being a Dental Hygienist

What does a dental hygienist do?

Besides managing patients and scheduling appointments, these professionals also perform administrative duties within a dentist's office, such as general maintenance and cleaning. Dental hygienists may perform oral procedures such as cavity removals or cleanings to help prevent further damage to teeth. They may also implement, check and adjust braces when needed. Some other duties that a dental hygienist performs under a board-certified dentist's supervision include:

Educating patients

Dental hygienists are often responsible for educating clients concerning dental needs and hygiene principles. Because they typically interact with customers of ages and backgrounds, they may communicate with people who possess little knowledge of dental principles. A dental hygienist explains concepts to clients so they understand the urgency of certain procedures, such as cleanings or wisdom teeth removal.

Related: 14 Reasons To Consider a Career as a Dental Hygienist

Cleaning teeth and gums

Dental hygienists are also often responsible for routine cleanings. These professionals understand how to use cleaning equipment properly and efficiently throughout an entire cleaning process. Such equipment can include items such as floss, motor-based cleaners, dental picks, plaque removing tools and mirrors.

Related: What Is a Dental Hygienist?

Suggesting treatments

During cleanings, appointments and routine checks, dental hygienists may suggest a particular treatment to a patient according to their needs. This may include telling a patient they require braces or informing a patient that their wisdom teeth may require removal soon. Encouraging a patient to receive the care they need is an essential component of a dental hygienist's responsibilities.

Related: How To Become a Dental Hygienist (With FAQ)

Recording patient data

When patients visit a dentist's office for a routine appointment, dental hygienists may record their data and add it to the profile they already have at their clinic. This may include information such as their age, ongoing treatments, moldings of their teeth, oral health history, X-ray data and overall oral health assessments. This requires effective data organization skills to record data correctly, and dental hygienists often understand how to use equipment both safely and effectively.

What degree does a dental hygienist need?

To become a dental hygienist, professionals often obtain at least an associate degree in dental hygiene from a program approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. After obtaining a degree, most students gain experience in their field that helps them secure employment from clinics. Many associate degree programs naturally include training and experience in their curriculum.

Professionals with a degree can become more competitive in their career pursuits by obtaining certification after training. Some certifications, such as mandatory state licensing, are requirements for dental hygienists to begin working. Certifications such as Basic Life Support issued by the Red Cross can train prospective dental hygienists in medical procedures unrelated to dental hygiene, such as CPR.

What are the benefits of becoming a dental hygienist?

There are many benefits to becoming a dental hygienist, including:

Schedule stability

As a dental hygienist, you may have a flexible work schedule. Additionally, clinic hours are often traditional, so these professionals rarely work nights. Dental hygienists may also be able to request other professionals with whom they work to cover their shifts periodically, allowing for some flexibility in their schedules.

Interactions with others

Dental hygienists often interact with diverse professionals and clients in their clinics. These professionals often possess customer service and communication skills to ensure that these interactions are helpful and informative. People who enjoy communicating with others and collaborating with both colleagues and patients may find the role of a dental hygienist fulfilling.

Minimal schooling requirements

Employers often establish minimal education requirements for these roles. A two-year degree is often sufficient to seek dental hygienist work and the training and experience students gain attaining an associate degree qualifies them for roles. This allows professionals to seek employment in these roles shortly after graduating high school.

Benefits packages

As a dental hygienist, you may work in a clinic that offers benefits to its employees. While this depends on your employer, many professions in this field offer competitive benefits packages. You may gain discounted or even free dental care services available to you as you continue to work for a clinic, among general benefits such as insurance and a retirement plan.

Work environment options

Another advantage of being a dental hygienist is that you often have the opportunity to work in various settings throughout your career. You may work in different general dental offices or specialty offices, such as an orthodontist or periodontics office. Because governmental facilities also employ dental hygienists to provide care for patients with disabilities, you may also have an opportunity to work in schools, homes or nursing homes. If you have various options, you may find one that works best for you.

Career advancement opportunities

After earning an associate degree and working as a dental hygienist, you often have the ability to seek advanced roles in the field by returning to school. With the knowledge you've obtained and your experience in the field, you can work to complete a bachelor's degree or even a master's degree. Either of these degrees can help provide you with more job options. Advanced roles in this field often include managerial, education and consulting positions.

What is the salary and job outlook of a dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist's salary varies depending on their licensing, education, years of experience and the work environment in which they work. Dental hygienists earn an average annual salary of $83,835 per year. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for dental hygienists may increase by 11% by 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Please note that none of the companies or certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles