Dental hygiene has become a popular profession for students wanting to enter the health profession. After all, it offers many benefits, like flexible schedules and a variety of work environments.
What’s more, the need for dental hygienists is expected to grow in the coming decade. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for qualified and registered dental hygienists will grow about 6% in the next ten years, which is faster than the projected expansion in the overall job market. Plus, dental hygienists, who must be licensed according to their state’s licensure requirements, make an average of $77K per year. However, depending on their location and unique experiences, they can make even more.
Dental hygienists are important members of a dental team. In a dental practice, they are responsible for administering preventive care and taking x-rays. Furthermore, they also educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques and assess for signs of oral diseases. So in this way, dental hygienists have the unique ability to impact their patients’ quality of life.
Dental hygiene programs are ranked according to their university’s overall rating according to the U.S. News and World Report’s 2021 Best National University Rankings. Some programs only offer a BSDH degree (bachelor’s of science in dental hygiene) while others offer a master of science degree.
5. Midwestern State University (Wichita Falls, TX)
Midwestern State University has a BSDH program that stresses clinical experiences combined with a background in a liberal arts education. Therefore, after taking two years of prerequisite science and liberal arts classes in their freshman and sophomore years, students begin their dental hygiene courses. As juniors and seniors, however, BSDH students are fully immersed in their dental hygiene education. They take clinical practices each semester as well as lecture courses in topics as diverse as dental anatomy and pathology to dental health education and public health.
All of the Midwestern BSDH courses—both lecture-based classes and clinical rotations—are held on-campus at the Gaines Clinic. Additionally, the faculty-to-student ratio is small, giving students plenty of access to faculty mentors.
The class size at Midwestern State is limited, as the program only takes on 18 new students a year. Plus, applicants are required to take the university’s Test of Essential Academic Skills for Allied Health, which tests students’ potential aptitude for careers as dental hygienists. Students are also expected to pass a writing proficiency exam before graduation, since written communication is an important skill for any dental professional. In an effort to attract the top applicants, Midwestern State even offers special tuition rates for out-of-state students.
4. Texas Women’s University (Denton, TX)
At Texas Women’s University, dental hygiene students can choose from a BSDH or a Master of Science in Health Studies with a dental hygiene focus. Although some of the bachelor’s program is available online, the master’s degree is entirely offered via distance learning. The master’s program is designed for students who are considering teaching in higher education and those who plan to pursue research agendas or public health positions after graduation. Plus, TWU has a dual degree track that leads students to earn an associate’s degree in applied science from a partnering community college while pursuing a BSDH at TWU at the same time.
Students at TWU benefit from the small classes and the faculty who are dedicated to helping students succeed. As just one example, Associate Clinical Professor Amy Teague has received multiple accolades as a faculty fellow and experiential student mentor. Her research area focuses on the educational outcomes of the school’s dual degree program, demonstrating the faculty’s commitment to continuously improving their students’ educational experiences.
In addition, the specialized curriculum stresses experiential learning at the on-campus dental hygiene clinic. The program also has an active student chapter of the American Dental Hygienists Association, which invites special speakers to meet with students, attends state and national conferences, and participates in community-based service projects.
3. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (Houston, TX)
The UT Health School of Dentistry (UTSD) at Houston gives students the option of BSDH or MSDH degrees. Likewise, the Certificate in Dental Hygiene, which is roughly equivalent to an associate’s degree, is an additional option. Or, students can enroll in dual degree programs that allow them to pursue concurrent certificates or master’s degrees with a focus in public health. Only 40 dental hygiene students are accepted each year at UTSD-Houston, so placement is limited.
What’s more, master’s degree students can take classes part-time or full-time, allowing students to maintain off-campus employment if needed. Plus, many of the courses are available online, giving students even more flexibility.
In addition to lecture courses, students can also practice their clinical skills at one of the on-site clinics. Or, students can participate in community outreach projects and service-learning at area hospitals.
The UTSD dental hygiene program is part of the Health Science Center at Houston. In this modern and technologically advanced facility, dental hygiene students can work alongside students and faculty from the schools in related fields like medical, biomedical sciences, and nursing. In fact, the School of Dentistry often engages in research collaborations with the School of Nursing, stressing the connections between these allied fields.
2. University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (San Antonio, TX)
The School of Dentistry at UT Health – San Antonio offers a BSDH degree through the Department of Periodontics. The coursework combines labs and clinical skills with dental hygiene theory, giving students a solid foundation to succeed in the field. Students enroll in this 2-year program after first completing two years of general education, which can be taken at the University of Texas or any other institution that teaches the Texas Core Curriculum. Plus, the program is competitive, so it only accepts 30 new students each year.
Students at UT-San Antonio have many opportunities to train in clinics directly. In fact, they spend a minimum of 12 hours each week administering care to patients. Students work at community-based clinics, like those at the Center for Oral Health Care and Research, which provides reduced-priced dental health services to the San Antonio community.
Moreover, specialty clinical rotations expose students to issues with periodontics and geriatric and pediatric dentistry. What’s more, students also participate in clinical experiences with the homeless and other special needs patients, giving students the skills to work with diverse populations throughout their careers.
The faculty is at UT-San Antonio dedicated to preparing students for the real world. In fact, about 90% of graduates who attempt to take their dental hygiene licensing exam pass on their first try.
1. Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
At the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene at Texas A&M University, students can pursue a bachelor’s degree that follows a competency-based curriculum. Among the BSDH programs in North Texas, Texas A&M is the only school that offers a dental hygiene degree from a dental college. Plus, the university also has the biggest class of undergraduate dental hygiene students in the state. For more advanced students, a master of science in dental hygiene education is specially geared toward those who wish to teach or conduct research that will improve health education programs.
Texas A&M believes that students learn best through applied learning. Therefore, underclassmen develop good patient care skills in the school’s Dental Simulation Clinic, which opened in the College of Dentistry in 2002. In fact, it was the first such simulation lab in Texas. At this special facility, students use mannequins and other tools to emulate real clinical experiences. Because of these exercises, students are better prepared to start clinical rotations as upperclassmen. Even better, dental hygiene students work alongside dental students in the on-campus clinics; this practice encourages good collaboration among all members of a patient’s dental team.
Texas A&M alumni have made a significant impact on the state’s dental health community. Moreover, they make up about one-third of the dental professionals in Texas, so graduates become part of an extensive network of peers.