Is a Dental Hygiene Degree Right for You?

Students who are looking for an in-demand health care career that allows you to work hands-on with patients without requiring a professional degree may want to consider an online bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. The degree is good fit for people who are interested in how oral health affects a person’s overall health, and who want to play a pivotal role in a dental practice team. A bachelor’s in dental hygiene online is most appropriate for hygienists who currently hold an associate degree and want to finish out a four-year degree, as well as for dental assistants who want to transition into dental hygiene to boost their earning power.

Advice for Earning Your Dental Hygiene Degree Online

Since clinical skills cannot be taught in online format, online bachelor’s degree programs in dental hygiene are largely completion programs for licensed dental hygienists who have already completed associate degree programs and thus have already fulfilled their clinical requirements.

Since most of the students who enroll in such programs are working hygienists, it’s vital for them to have a plan in place for how they will balance their work and education commitments, which will often meaning sacrificing free time and weekends to complete assignments and exams. Many online programs often have practicum requirements or site-based field work, so students will need to communicate these requirements to their employer and plan for it in their schedules ahead of time.

Required Courses

Since students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene are often seeking greater positions of leadership and education in dental health, the curriculum tends to emphasize research, writing, and analysis of relevant dental health issues to prepare them for future graduate study or public health positions. Part of this includes courses in statistics and courses that emphasize case studies in dental hygiene. Some courses you may encounter in a dental hygiene bachelor’s degree online include:

  • Promotion of Oral Health
  • Contemporary Issues in Dental Hygiene
  • Research Methods
  • Dental Practice Management
  • Community Program Planning

Common Career Paths

The most obvious career path for dental hygiene majors is a dental hygienist. However, students are not limited to that option. They can also pursue careers in public health, education, or research, although some of these career fields may require them to build on their bachelor’s with a relevant graduate degree. Specific possible careers are outlined below. Keep in mind that salaries can vary greatly by experience, education, and the size and type of your employer.

Dental Hygienist

  • Expected Growth: 38%
  • Average Annual Salary: $70,700

Dental hygienists promote oral health in patients by cleaning their teeth, educating them on proper oral care, and identifying signs of dental problems such as gingivitis or cavities. They also provide fluoride treatments for patients, take x-rays, and create and update patient records that reflect the status of their teeth.

A minimum of an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene, as well as passing a state-approved exam, is required to become licensed as a dental hygienist, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, a bachelor’s or higher degree can open up the possibility of careers in dental hygiene research, teaching, or working in a clinical capacity in public or school health programs. The above job outlook and salary average were provided by the BLS.

Dental Practice Manager

  • Expected Growth: N/A
  • Average Annual Salary: $42,025 (reflects median salary)

Dental practice managers are in charge of the daily business operations of dental practices. This includes tracking financial performance, developing annual operating budgets, directing employee performance and development initiatives, and optimizing the schedules of dentists and hygienists to drive practice revenue.

A cursory review of job postings in this field revealed a bachelor’s degree to be a common qualification to enter this field. The BLS does not track employment growth or salary statistics for this occupation, but dental office managers reported the median salary provided above on online compensation site PayScale.com.

Dental Hygiene Instructors

  • Expected Growth: 17%
  • Average Annual Salary: $100,370 (salary reflects teachers in all health specialties)

Dental hygienists who leverage their bachelor’s degree to pursue master’s degrees in dental hygiene may pursue careers as dental hygiene instructors at colleges and universities. These instructors teach both clinical and didactic courses in dental hygiene and make sure that would-be dental hygienists have the skills and knowledge they need to work with patients by testing their knowledge of dental hygiene concepts and observing students as they perform clinical tasks.

These instructors are commonly employed by community colleges, junior colleges, and technical and trade schools, which highly value work experience as well as a graduate degree in the field, the BLS explained. The employment growth projection and salary average provided above were drawn from the BLS.

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