Dental Hygiene

Dental Hygiene

Dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals who focus on preventing and treating oral diseases in order to protect the oral cavity. They are graduates of accredited dental hygiene education programs in colleges and universities and must pass a written national board examination and a clinical examination to obtain state licensure.

A career as a dental hygienist offers a wide range of challenges. In the dental office, the dental hygienist works with the dentist to meet the oral health needs of patients. Each state has its own specific regulations regarding their responsibilities; therefore, the range of services performed by hygienists varies from state to state. Some of the services provided by dental hygienists may include:
  • patient screening procedures, such as assessment of oral health conditions, review of the 
    health history, oral cancer screening, head and neck inspection, dental charting and taking blood pressure and pulse
  • taking and developing dental radiographs (i.e., X-rays)
  • removing calculus and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth
  • applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g., sealants and fluorides)
  • teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health (e.g., tooth brushing, flossing and nutritional counseling)
  • counseling patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health
  • making impressions of patients' teeth for study casts (i.e., models of teeth used by dentists to evaluate patient treatment needs)
  • performing documentation and office management activities

The American Dental Association notes that hygienists are in demand in general dental practices and in specialty practices such as periodontics or pediatric dentistry. They also may be employed to provide dental hygiene services for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and public health clinics.

Depending on their level of education and experience, dental hygienists can enjoy other career activities such as teaching hygiene students in dental schools and dental hygiene education programs. Research, office management and business administration are other career options. Employment opportunities also may be available with companies that market dental-related materials and equipment.

Education Programs

A dental hygiene education requires an average of 86 credit hours for an associate degree, or 122 credit hours for a baccalaureate degree.  The majority of programs are semester-based and almost half include summer study.  A few programs offer a part-time curriculum and some offer at least some opportunities for distance learning.


Dental hygiene degrees are offered in a variety of institutional settings.  Entry-level programs are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

Visit the American Dental Hygienists’ Association Web site,, for a listing of educational programs that offer degrees or certificates that provide entry to the professional practice of dental hygiene. To determine the accreditation status of a specific program, please contact the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

According to the ADHA, dental hygienists must exhibit competence in the following five domains:

Core Competencies:, the ethics, values, skills, and knowledge integral to all aspects of the profession.

A general knowledge of wellness, health determinants, and characteristics of various patient/client communities. The hygienist needs to emphasize both prevention of disease and effective health care delivery.

Appreciation of their role as health professionals at the local, state, and national levels. This role requi

res the graduate dental hygienist to assess, plan, and implement programs and activities to benefit the general population. In this role, the dental hygienist must be prepared to influence others to facilitate access to care and services.

Dental hygiene graduates must use their skills to assess, diagnose, plan, implement, and evaluate treatment.Dental hygienists must be aware of a variety of opportunities for Professional Growth and Development. A dental hygienist must possess transferable skills, e.g., in communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking, to take advantage of these opportunities.


Licensure is granted by individual states. Dental hygienists practice in accordance with requirements of individual state dental practice acts.


In virtually every state, several steps are required before a license can be granted:

• Graduation from an accredited dental hygiene program
• Successful completion of the written National Board Dental Hygiene Examination
• Successful completion of a regional or state clinical board examination.

Once these steps have been completed, an applicant for licensure must then contact the state licensing authority in the state where he/she wishes to practice. As licensing requirements vary from state to state, it is necessary to contact each licensing authority in a given state for its specific application requirements and procedures.


Examples of other types of requirements and information needed are:

• Successful completion of a jurisprudence exam
• Proof of CPR certification
• Letters of recommendation from dentists licensed in the state in which you wish to obtain licensure
• Official transcripts from high school and colleges attended
• Official letters from the boards of dentistry where licensure is held.


Typically state boards have the authority to deny a license to an applicant who has committed an act for which the board could revoke a license. Persons convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor may be refused licensure, as well as those disciplined for other reasons. Most states conduct background checks on a case-by-case basis.

Dental Assisting

Dental Assisting

Dental assistants greatly increase the efficiency of the dentist in the delivery of quality oral health care. If you have strong communication skills, enjoy working with your hands as well as your mind and want a career with responsibility, dental assisting is for you.

The American Dental Association notes that the duties of a dental assistant are among the most comprehensive and varied in the dental office. The dental assistant performs many tasks requiring both interpersonal and technical skills. Although state regulations vary, responsibilities may include:

  • assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
  • taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays)
  • asking about the patient's medical history and taking blood pressure and pulse
  • serving as an infection control officer, developing infection control protocol and preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
  • helping patients feel comfortable during dental treatment
  • providing patients with instructions for oral care following surgery or other dental treatment procedures
  • teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health
  • taking impressions of patients' teeth for study casts
  • performing office management tasks that often require the use of a personal computer
  • communicating with patients and suppliers (e.g., scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, billing and ordering supplies)
  • helping to provide direct patient care in all dental specialties

The types of practice settings available to dental assistants include:

  • solo dental practices
  • group practices
  • specialty practices, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • public health dentistry, including settings such as schools and clinics
  • hospital dental clinics
  • dental school clinics
  • insurance companies, processing dental insurance claims
  • vocational schools, technical institutes, community colleges, dental schools and universities, teaching others to be dental assistants (which may require associate or baccalaureate college degrees)
  • dental product sales representatives


Dental assistants receive their education through academic programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities or dental schools. Graduates usually receive certificates. Although most academic dental assisting programs take nine to eleven months to complete, some schools offer accelerated training, part-time education programs or training via distance education.

For a list of accredited Dental Assisting programs, contact:
Commission on Dental Accreditation,
211 E. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA)
35 E. Wacker Dr.
Suite 1730
Chicago, Illinois 60601-2211

Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB)
444 N. Michigan Ave.
Suite 900
Chicago, Illinois 60611


The Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association is responsible for accrediting dental assisting programs.


Most dental assistants who choose to become nationally certified take the Dental Assisting National Board's (DANB) Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination. Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) assures the public that the dental assistant is prepared to assist competently in the provision of dental care.

Dental assistants are eligible to take the CDA examination if they have completed a dental assisting program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Individuals who have been trained on the job or have graduated from non-accredited programs are eligible to take the national certification examination after they have completed two years of full-time work experience as dental assistants. Some states also recognize passage of components of the CDA examination, such as the Radiation Health and Safety examination, or the Infection Control examination, for licensing and regulatory purposes.

In addition to the voluntary national certification examination offered by the Dental Assisting National Board, some states require dental assistants to be registered. For more information on the type of education, training or registration dental assistants must have in your state, contact your state board of dental examiners. In Ohio, the board can be contacted through Other state boards can be found at

Local Resources

Youngstown Warren Dental Assistant Society

Becoming a Dentist

Become a Dentist

Dentists must have a license in order to practice, and students must attend and graduate from a dental school that has been accredited by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation to be eligible for licensure. Along with completing a program, students must also pass exams. Many students enter a dental school after completing a bachelor's degree program in a related subject.

Prepare for and take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) a year before you anticipate entering dental school. The DAT is one of several measures of a person's potential for academic success in dental school. It is usually administered to students who have completed at least one year of college-level courses in biology and chemistry.

Apply for admission at least a year in advance. Most college students apply for dental school during their junior year.

Most dental schools require personal interviews with candidates to assess attributes such as desire to help people, ability to get along well with others, self-confidence, ability to meet challenges and capacity to work independently. The personal interview also allows you to ask questions about the school and its services.

Most dental schools participate in the American Association of Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS). This simplifies the application process. Generally, only one application for admission needs to be completed. To initiate an application to any of the schools participating in AADSAS, a candidate must obtain an official Application Request brochure from his or her predental advisor, a participating dental school or by writing AADSAS,1625 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-2212. If a particular school does not participate in AADSAS, the applicant should obtain application materials directly from the school.

The Dental School Curriculum

Dentistry combines a working knowledge of the basic sciences, technical skill and the art of communicating with people.  A dental education usually requires four years of college and four years of dental school. If you decide to go into one of the eight specialties, you'll need a minimum of two years of additional schooling.

The dental curriculum can be divided into three areas:

Basic health sciences, including anatomy, biochemistry, histology, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology, with emphasis on dental aspects.

Application of these sciences, providing patient care in dental school clinics.

Practice management, including talking with patients, the use and management of dental office staff, business management, professional ethics and community health.

Dental schools grant doctoral degrees in dentistry. All dental programs in the United States are accredited.

Tuition, Expenses and Financial Assistance

In addition to tuition, the cost of a dental education includes books, fees, instruments and living expenses. Many dental students cover educational expenses through readily available loans; limited scholarships and grants are available for deserving students.

Financial assistance in the form of loans is readily available from a variety of sources, One excellent source is a package of federal and private loans developed especially for dental students by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). Further information regarding this loan program may be obtained by calling, toll-free, 1-800-225-6783. Financial aid officers at each of the dental schools also may be able to assist you by providing information about other loan programs.

For more Information:

The American Dental Education Association publishes a valuable guide for students interested in a career in dentistry. Admission Requirements of U.S. and Canadian Dental Schools may be obtained by writing or calling:

American Dental Education Association (ADEA) 
1625 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-2212
FAX: 202-667-0642

The American Student Dental Association publishes the ASDA Handbook, which contains useful information on requirements for application and admission to dental schools in the United States. ASDA also offers a predental membership to individuals interested in a dental career. Write or call:

American Student Dental Association (ASDA)
211 East Chicago Avenue
Suite 1160
Chicago, Illinois 60611-2616