Dental hygiene can be a great career option for anyone interested in the dental healthcare profession. After all, dental hygienists do much more than preventative dentistry; they also educate patients on good oral health practices to increase their quality of life. Dental hygienists can provide therapeutic services, too, so they are essential members of a clinic’s dental team.
Dental hygienists often have the flexibility to work part-time or full-time in different types of settings. Although many work in dentist offices, dental hygienists can also be employed by schools, public health organizations, hospitals, and nursing homes. States require dental hygienists to be licensed, but licensure requirements differ from state to state.
Salaries and benefits can vary according to experience and geographic location, but dental hygienists enjoy a median pay of $77K a year. Plus, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the demand for these professionals will grow 6% over the next ten years, which is stronger than the growth rate for most fields. The need for dental hygienists will increase as Baby Boomers continue to age and more people start to understand the links between dental and overall health.
The types of dental hygiene programs across the country vary with associate’s, bachelor’s of science (BSDH), and master’s of science (MSDH) degree in dental hygiene. But still, most programs combine classroom instruction with laboratories and clinical training.
Dental hygienist programs are ranked by the overall university’s placement in the US News Best National Universities list.
10. Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
As part of the College of Dentistry, the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene uses a competency-based curriculum to educate its diverse student body. The school offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and students are engaged in clinical studies alongside dental students. Moreover, the BSDH program is the only dental hygiene program in North Texas housed within a dental college.
Texas A&M has a strong network of alumni across the state. In fact, about one-third of all dental professionals in Texas graduated from Texas A&M. Plus, the university graduates more students with BSDH degrees than any other college in Texas.
The program takes a hands-on approach to prepare students to become dental hygienists, who start practicing their skills in an educational setting before moving on to actual patients. What’s more, when the College of Dentistry’s Dental Simulation Clinic opened in 2002, it was the first one of its kind in Texas. Basically, it gives pre-clinical students a chance to simulate those experiences using mannequins and other simulation tools.
9. University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)
The School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota is the only dental college in the northern tier of states between Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest. The school offers both BSDH and MSDH degrees in a large public university setting. In addition, the accelerated bachelor’s program allows students to graduate in only three years because they attend classes year-round.
Overall, the school blends a liberal arts education with clinical education and studies in the biological and social sciences. In short, the competency-based curriculum promotes evidence-based dental hygiene practices and encourages graduates to be life-long learners with good critical-thinking skills. The dental hygiene program also includes four weeks of patient care, so students have a lot of practical learning.
Even more, community outreach activities are required of all students because of the program’s emphasis placed on service and leadership. Therefore, the School of Dentistry has established partnerships with about fifteen sites across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, allowing students to work with diverse populations. Many of these service-learning clinics reach underserved people who do not have adequate access to dental care.
8. Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ)
Rutgers University is a major player in dental care and education in New Jersey. In fact, College Factual ranked Rutgers as the best college to study health professions in 2018. The BSDH program is a full-time program that includes two summer sessions.
Not only is Rutgers the biggest provider of dental care in the state, it’s also New Jersey’s largest center of dental research. And the School of Health Professions, which houses the BSDH program, is the largest such school in the country, offering over 35 certifications and degrees. But the school’s diversity goes beyond the offering of courses; Rutgers is reportedly the most racially and ethnically diverse university with students with a range of socio-economic backgrounds.
The Rutgers School of Health Professions also has good placement rates, with almost 100% of alumni finding employment within three months of graduation. Plus, at the end of the program, BSDH students are eligible to take the board exams to obtain their dental hygienist licenses.
7. University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)
The University of Pittsburgh gives students the chance to pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in a unique academic environment. The multidisciplinary program is designed to prepare students for careers as dental hygienists in private practices, but the curriculum also allows graduates to go into industry sales, business, public health, or research.
The program stresses applied training throughout the courses. For example, first-year students start to learn skills in a technology-enhanced simulation lab. Later, all students do rotations in the campus dental clinic, giving students a chance to work with the public.
Furthermore, the University of Pittsburg has cross-discipline instruction that gives students an extra edge in their careers. For example, dental hygiene students can take SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) training with students from the School of Nursing. By participating in simulated scenarios, students learn how to identify patients with substance use disorders and subsequently prepare evidence-based plans of personalized care.