In order for students to become registered dental hygienists, they must graduate from a college program that lasts at least two years and includes classroom work as well as supervised clinical experience. A registered dental hygienist must also pass a national written exam and a comprehensive state clinical exam in order to become a licensed dental hygienist. A dental hygiene education requires an average of 86 credit hours for an associate degree or 122 hours for a baccalaureate degree.
A dental hygienist is one of the most important people in a dental office. While hygienists are not trained as dentists and are not qualified to perform the duties of a dentist, they help ensure that patients have healthy teeth and gums. A dental hygienist is qualified to inspect teeth and gums, scrape away plaque, floss teeth and instruct patients on how to improve and maintain dental health. Required courses must be taken in order for someone to become a dental hygienist.
Before being admitted to a dental hygienist training program, prerequisites for prospective students usually include a high school diploma or GED; high school courses in math, chemistry, biology and English; a minimum of a C average in high school; and typically up to 40 credit hours of college coursework in chemistry, speech, English, psychology and sociology. Institutions may also require a personal interview, a dexterity exam and an essay. As part of the criteria for admission, 77 percent of dental hygiene programs use grade point averages in college science courses.
Hours and Courses
An average of nearly 2,800 clock hours of coursework are required by accredited dental hygiene programs, including more than 650 hours of supervised clinical instruction. The courses required include general education topics such as English, speech, sociology and psychology; science classes that may include general chemistry, anatomy, microbiology, pathology, nutrition and pharmacology; and dental science courses such as dental anatomy, head and neck anatomy, oral embryology and histology, oral pathology, radiography, periodontology, pain control and dental materials; and an array of dental hygiene classes.
Degrees and Costs
Whether students receive an associate or baccalaureate degree, they are consided as entry-level professional dental hygienists who are prepared to practice in a private dental office or public clinic setting. Instruction in associate programs means an average of 2,666 clock hours of instruction while baccalaureate programs offer an average of 3,093 clock hours of instruction. Students in baccalaureate programs generally receive more hours of training devoted to patient care than students in associate programs. The average estimated total cost for an associate degree is approximately $30,000; for a baccalaureate degree the figure is approximately $40,000 (2011 figures).
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