Dental hygienists provide a variety of preventive oral care services, including teeth cleanings and gum disease examinations. Dental hygiene education programs are typically at the associate degree level and can be found at community colleges and technical schools. In addition to classes specifically in dental hygiene, prerequisite coursework is required at most schools before beginning the program.

Prerequisite Classes

Prerequisite coursework for a dental hygienist program is usually in the sciences, giving students a fundamental understanding of the human body and its processes. Biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and microbiology are typical prerequisite courses. Mathematics, psychology and sociology may also be required by some schools. Some schools allow students to join a waiting list for the dental hygiene program while working on the prerequisite courses, while others require students to complete the courses before beginning the application process.

Dental Hygiene Classes

Programs in dental hygiene generally take two years to complete with the first portion spent in the classroom studying basic aspects of oral anatomy and hygiene. Courses in this phase of training may include oral biology, dental anatomy, dental hygiene theories and practices, dental pharmacology and oral histology. After the basics, coursework typically becomes more focused on the practical applications of dental hygiene. Courses in dental radiology, nutrition, periodontics and oral pathology are common. Students also learn about pain management and dental anesthesia.

Clinical Study

The second portion of most programs combines coursework in specific areas of dental hygiene practices with hands-on clinical and laboratory work. Students are introduced to materials used in dental procedures, as well as advanced courses in dental radiology. They may also work with patients, providing preventive dental care and oral health screenings. For this portion of training, students may be required to undergo physical examinations, background screenings and drug testing, as well as have current immunization records.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the field of dental hygiene is projected to grow at a faster-than-average pace of 38 percent from 2010 to 2020. Advances in diagnostic technologies in detecting oral disease coupled with an aging population is expected to help spur the increased need for people trained in oral hygiene. All states require licensure for dental hygienists. Although licensing requirements vary by state, most require graduating from an accredited dental hygiene program, passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and taking a state or local clinical exam. Other requirements may include CPR certification and recommendation letters from local dentists.