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How to Choose a Dental Hygienist School

dental hygienist checking patient's teethChoosing the best dental hygienist school can be an involved and complicated process.  The benefit is that you will enjoy a rewarding career working in the healthcare industry.  But entering the dental field starts with obtaining the proper education and credentials.  That is why it is vitally important that you do your due diligence before you choose and enroll in a school.  Dental hygienists usually hold an associate’s degree, which will generally take between 18 and 24 months to earn.  As with any career, a higher level of training often means greater job opportunities and the potential to earn a higher salary.  There are a few considerations that will help you narrow down your dental hygienist program options right away.  But before we delve into those, let’s talk a little bit about what a dental hygienist career is all about.

What is a Dental Hygienist?

dental hygienist cleaning child's teethProbably the biggest difference between a dental assistant and hygienist is that an assistant works directly with a dentist and performs office tasks and small supervised jobs.  A hygienist, on the other hand, works one-on-one with the patients.  Their duties, therefore, are more advanced and independent than those of an assistant.  They may include, based on each state’s law:

  • Polishing patient’s teeth
  • Removing hard and soft deposits from teeth
  • Removing tartar, plaque and stains
  • Developing x-ray film
  • Administering anesthetic, applying fillings and removing sutures

As previously mentioned, because of the added responsibility and independence, dental hygiene programs are generally 2 year programs leading to an associate’s degree.  Almost all states require that hygienists be graduates of CDA accredited dental hygiene education programs to be eligible for state licensure. And almost every state requires candidates for licensure to obtain a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination in addition to passing the state licensure examination.

Online Dental Hygienist Programs

dental hygienist cleaning woman's teethReceiving your dental hygienist training online is a good option as well.  A variety of methods are used to teach the curriculum, including videos, live interactive discussions, and slide shows.  Because the classes are taught online, you have the advantage of being able to access them through any computer at any location at any time.  This makes it much easier to juggle your education with work, family and other obligations.  It also reduces the cost of your education by eliminating some traditional expenses, such as those for commuting and textbooks.  Tuition is often more affordable as well.  Requirements for clinical practice can be met by completing them at an area dental facility or as provided on campus.  Between the clinical experience and the online courses, everything needed to achieve the necessary competency to begin working in the field after graduation is provided.

Learn More About Dental Hygienist Schools

Questions to Narrow your School Options

Now that you know what a dental hygienist is, and the types of degree programs that are available, let’s now review a basic check list of things you should research for each school you are considering to assist you in narrowing down your options.

Is the School Accredited?  If your career goal is to become certified or licensed, then you need to enroll in an accredited training program.  The accepted agency for accreditation is the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA). If your educational program is not accredited by this agency, you will not be eligible to take the Certified Dental Assistant exam or become licensed in most states.

Are Certificate or Degree Programs Offered?  As previously mentioned, there are certificate and associate’s degree programs available depending on your choice of dental specialty.  Make sure that the schools you are considering offer the one you are interested in. There are advantages and disadvantages to each program and specialty.  A school admissions or career counselor can help you to figure out which is best option for you.

What is the Total Cost?  Tuition is not the only cost of your education.  Remember to include the cost of books and commuting from your home as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset these costs, so check with the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered.

Is Flexible Scheduling Provided?  If you have limited hours available for your class schedule or require evening classes be available, be sure your school offers them.  Schools are becoming more flexible with expanded hours to accommodate students with demanding schedules.  Of course, if you are studying online then you will for the most part have 24 hour access.

What are the Class Sizes?  Smaller classes tend to offer more access to instructors when students have questions or need extra help.

Are Internships Offered? Internships are a great way to get hands on experience and training that you can’t get from a textbook.  They are also a great way to build relationships at local dental practices and also provide experience on a resume.

Is Tutoring Available?  It’s important to know that if help is needed that it is available.  Find out what is available and if there is a fee (probably will be).  One typically cost free option is to join a forum or chat room where students can ask each other questions.

Pick the Right Dental Hygienist Training

Picking the right dental hygienist training program is critical if you plan to take the CDA examination. As we have discussed, you can choose to take your classes either online in your home or by attending a traditional school in person.  By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you will be better able to evaluate each prospective school.  By doing so, you can ultimately choose the one that will help you to achieve your long term career goals in the rewarding field of dentistry.