How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Nationwide, dental hygienists earn a median salary of $77,090.
Anna Helhoski
By Anna Helhoski 
Edited by Des Toups

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Dental hygienists are expected to remain in demand as the need for dental services grows with the graying baby boom generation. They work in dentists’ offices to clean teeth, assess oral health, take X-rays and document treatment plans. To become a dental hygienist, you’ll need at least an associate degree and to get licensed in your state.

Employment outlook

The following information is national and comes from the most recent data (May 2020) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median pay: $77,090 per year or $37.06 per hour.

Annual projected number of new jobs: 15,600.

Projected employment growth from 2020-2030: 11%.

10 cities and metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of dental hygienist jobs

  • Longview, Washington.

  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

  • Lawrence, Kansas.

  • Kokomo, Indiana.

  • Port St. Lucie, Florida.

  • Johnson City, Tennessee.

  • Mankato-North Mankato, Minnesota.

  • Twin Falls, Idaho.

  • Lima, Ohio.

  • Dover-Durham, New Hampshire/Maine.

Education and training required

Minimum education required: Associate degree.

Training needed: Dental hygiene programs are typically at least three years and are found at community colleges, technical schools and four-year universities. Make sure the program you enroll in is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which is part of the American Dental Association. You may get a bachelor’s degree and will usually need at least an associate degree.

When you apply, the American Dental Education Association Dental Hygiene Centralized Application Service, or ADEA DHCAS, is a common application service that collects standardized data and distributes information to multiple dental hygiene programs. You will pay a fee.

Licensing needed: Dental hygienists must be licensed in the state they practice in; licensing requirements will vary by state. Contact your state’s dental board for information on licensing.

How to pay for your education

Financial aid availability: Becoming a dental hygienist requires community college or training programs that lead to state licensing. If you attend a traditional community college or four-year college to get your bachelor’s degree, you typically can access federal aid dollars. First, submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to access need-based aid and federal student loans. If you have a financial gap to fill, consider private student loans.

If you attend a private technical school with a dental hygienist program, you may find the school offers its own loan programs or the equivalent of a “buy now, pay later” financing option. Use these with caution since often rates will be much higher than federal student loans. Compare the program available at these schools with any offered by a nearby community college.

Average nationwide dental hygienist degree cost:

According to the American Dental Education Association, the average estimated total cost of tuition and fees for:

  • An associate degree is $22,692.

  • A bachelor’s degree is $36,382.

You can use the College Scorecard to search schools by “Field of Study” and compare median debt, graduation rates and salaries.

Loan forgiveness available: Dental hygienists with federal student debt can access student loan forgiveness through Public Service Loan Forgiveness if they work for a qualifying public service not-for-profit or government employer. There are additional federal forgiveness programs for dental hygienists available. The American Dental Education Association has a list of state loan forgiveness programs that dental hygienists may qualify for.

Working conditions

Hours: Many dental hygienists work part-time hours; some have full-time hours.

Where you’ll work: Typically on-site in dentists’ offices.

Risks: Dental hygienists must take precautions to protect themselves from radiation while taking X-rays. Dental hygienists also typically wear protective gear to prevent the potential spread of infectious diseases.

Benefits: Full-time employment may include benefits such as vacation, sick leave, reduced cost of dental procedures and retirement contribution, but it will vary by employer. Part-time employment may not include full benefits. Many dental hygienists work part time and may work for multiple dentists.

The most prominent professional organization in the U.S. is the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. There may be local health services unions that dental hygienists can join.

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