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Top Dental Hygienist Schools

As an increasing number of links are made between oral health and overall health, the need for dental hygienists is also increasing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the professional outlook for dental hygienists is expected to grow a whopping 19% between 2014 and 2024 — much faster than the national average for any other profession. The typical entry level education for this field is an associate degree, although some students opt to earn their bachelor’s degree. A handful of schools even offer the opportunity to earn a dental hygienist degree online.

An associate degree program can be completed anywhere from one to three years and, on average, will earn you an average of $70,000 a year (or $35 an hour). Upon completion of your dental hygienist degree, you will be required to complete a state licensing exam, including a written and practical exam (this exam is required in every state). But first it’s important to understand that not all programs are equal — take a look at our list of the field’s top 50 programs below.

What Are The Top Dental Hygienist Programs?

Career Outlook for Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists benefit from a particularly bright career outlook. In fact, growth in the field is projected at a much higher rate than the national average for nearly all other occupations. Median pay for professionals in the field is a high $72,000 a year, just half of what dental hygienist programs typically cost.

Why all this good news? Over the years, the public has come to better understand a link between oral health and health in general. In turn, demand for preventative services continues to increase. More and more patients strive to schedule regular teeth cleanings every six months. As dental hygienists are able to perform routine dental maintenance, dentists are free to see more patients for more complex procedures.

With this feather in your cap, you can, of course, go on to work in a dental office. As a professional dental hygienist, you will conduct daily procedures ranging from teeth cleaning to plaque removal to advising patients on gum and tooth health to discussing preventative care, and more.

It’s also important to emphasize that you’re not limited to a single track. Graduates of dental hygienist degree programs also go on to work in pharmaceutical sales, research institutes, insurance agencies, correctional facilities, and more. Being a dental office manager is now completely within your purview, too. If you ever decide to continue your education in a higher degree program, you can also begin to explore teaching opportunities.

Additional Certifications and Educational Opportunities

You can get your feet on the ground and start earning a healthy living with an associate degree. These usually take two years to complete and require a full-time commitment. However, a bachelor’s degree opens up the door to an array of other possibilities. According to the American Dental Association, nearly every state requires dental hygienists to graduate from an accredited dental hygiene education program in order to be eligible for state licensure.

When you graduate from your degree program, you must go on to take the National Board Dental Hygiene examination — a comprehensive written exam — in addition to passing a state-authorized licensure exam. State exams test the clinical skills and dental hygiene knowledge of candidates. Once you receive your license, you can proudly display “R.D.H.” after your name, indicating that you are a Registered Dental Hygienist.

Professional Associations

Several educational and professional dental hygienist associations exist, and it’s wise to join them either during your academic career or upon graduation. This will expose you to an array of networking opportunities, national conference dates, published articles, mentorship opportunities, and industry news. The two major associations are the ADHA and the NDHA.

You’ll want to start with the American Dental Hygienist Association. There, you’ll be privy to published articles, professional opportunities, legislative developments, and a calendar of events to share with your colleagues. The ADHA offers varying levels of membership, including a student level and a professional level. Each level requires corresponding fees. For example, professional level membership costs $196. The student level provides very useful tools such as National Board Exam Preparation materials, networking opportunities, and more.

Next, take consider National Dental Hygienists’ Association membership. Membership benefits include continuing education opportunities, professional development and employment opportunities, an introduction to mentors, and scholarship opportunities. Undergraduate dental hygiene student dues cost $40. After completion of your undergraduate degree, national membership dues cost $155 annually.

You’ll also want to subscribe to the mailing list for RDH Under One Roof. RDH Under One Roof is a three-day, annual conference where dental hygienists learn from industry leaders. The conference features a huge exhibition where you can view the latest in dental hygiene products and dental equipment. Other benefits include provided lunches, welcome and networking receptions, and plenty of swag. This year’s conference will be held in Chicago from August 10 to 12.

To determine the best dental hygienist schools, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, and graduation rate. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 50 best dental hygienist programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (25%) + Default Rate (25%) + Retention Rate (25%) + Graduation Rate (25%) = Final score.