Dental Hygienist Courses

Courses for the dental hygienist encompass several different areas. Dental hygiene programs involve the didactic part of the curriculum as well as the clinical component. To become a dental hygienist, you must take a series of courses usually over a period of three to four years. These classes prepare students to pass a written and clinical board exam.

  1. Basic Sciences

    • Before entering the more specific dental hygiene courses, students often take courses involving the basic sciences. These are science courses that are directly related to living organisms and health care. Biochemistry, anatomy, physiology and microbiology are examples of the science classes. Often these classes are taken with other health care students and have a focus on the clinical aspect. Usually prerequisite courses, such as general biology and chemistry, are required before enrolling in these basic science classes. Head and neck anatomy also trains the student to identify nerves, blood supply and bones in the head and neck area.

    Local Anesthesia and Pain Management

    • An important component of practicing dental hygiene is the use of local anesthesia to control pain for patients. Dental hygienists take courses to learn how to administer local anesthesia and nitrous oxide sedation. They learn several different injections to use depending on the area of the mouth they need to anesthetize. In pharmacology class, students learn dosages for different types of anesthetics as well as which drugs they can interact with. They learn when to give each type of anesthetic at which dosage. The curriculum also includes an overview of all drugs and conditions so that hygienists are aware of any contraindications for dental hygiene treatment.


    • Dental hygienists are trained in identifying different dental diseases such as caries, oral cancer and periodontitis. Periodontology is the study of gum disease and dental hygienists are trained to assess and treat this condition. Hygiene students usually take at least one class, but usually more, that are dedicated to this condition. Students also take a class on dental caries (cavities), where they learn to identify and prevent them. The use of fluoride, sealants and dietary counseling are addressed in this course. Classes in pathology and embryology are also taken to ensure the student understands normal versus abnormal development of the human body, especially the head and neck area. Conditions such as cancers, tumors, syndromes and diseases of the head and neck are addressed here.

    Clinicals and Instrumentation

    • Effective instrumentation is essential to the practice of dental hygiene. Learning to detect calculus or tartar buildup underneath the gums takes time and patience. In this course, the student learns how to use tactile senses to feel for tartar with specialized instruments designed for certain areas of the mouth. Once students understand the purpose of each instrument, they begin to practice on one another, detecting and removing tartar. Other clinical skills are addressed, including application of fluoride, use of ultrasonic scalers, sealant placement, taking impressions, probing and taking radiographs. Eventually, students see real patients in a clinical setting and are continuously monitored by instructors.

    Public Health and Research

    • Part of the curriculum for a dental hygiene education also involves coursework in public health. Students learn to look at oral health that encompasses the entire community. They also provide care at outreach clinics within the community and may go educate students at local schools. Student hygienists also learn to perform oral health care research and how to interpret existing research.


    • A few other courses are included in a dental hygiene education. Radiology focuses on taking dental radiographs and recognizing disease. Students also learn the background of radiology and how to minimize exposure. Dental hygienists also complete courses in special needs patients, nutrition, biomaterials, medical emergencies and dental anatomy. Rotations through specialty areas in orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, oral surgery and periodontics are performed.

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