What degree should I get if I want to be a dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist assists dentists during patient visits. Their responsibilities include assessing a person’s dental health by talking with the patient, examining their teeth, or reading X-rays. With this type of career, you would work in a private practice, at a hospital, or even a nursing home. According to 2015 findings by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists typically make around $72,720 a year.

To become a dental hygienist, you’ll need to get an Associate for Applied Science in Dental Hygiene. It takes as little as two years to earn this degree. This degree is widely available at many institutions, such as vocational schools, community colleges, dental schools, and online universities.

Many universities have started offering dental hygienist degrees completely online, giving students of all ages and career paths more flexibility to learn at their own pace. A couple of examples of schools offering 100 percent online learning options include Western Kentucky University, University of New Mexico, and Pennsylvania College of Technology. When choosing a school, ensure it is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Institutions prefer students have a strong background in science before starting their Associate degree. Classes that universities look for on high school transcripts typically include biology and chemistry as well as math. And since dental hygienists interact with patients all day, schools may also require learners take classes such as speech, psychology, and sociology to strengthen both their bedside manner and diagnostic skills.

Once you’ve completed your Associate degree, you’ll also need to complete the National Board Dental Hygiene exam, along with other state-required tests so you can hold a license to practice in your state. All states in the United States require you have a license to practice.

If you’re interested in making dental hygiene your long-term career goal, it may be worth your while to look into a four-year degree, such as a Bachelor’s of Science in Dental Hygiene. With a more advanced degree, you could have more career options, including researching dental health in a clinical setting, teaching new students, or working in the public health sector.

Did you know you could earn a dental hygienist degree completely online? Check out the top schools with online programs here.