Before enrolling in a dental hygienist program, you might ask, "How long does it take to become a dental hygienist?"

Associate's vs. Bachelor's Degrees

Individuals wanting to become dental hygienists generally have two options: associate's degree programs or bachelor's degree programs. Most associate's degree programs take just two years to finish on a full-time basis. Bachelor's programs take four years to finish but can help you qualify for better jobs as well as those that pay more. And while bachelor's programs take longer to finish, these programs often include some clinical or practical work that helps you get familiar working with patients.

Becoming a Licensed Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental assistant or a hygienist requires that you get your license. According to the American Dental Association, most states require that hygienists have a degree from an accredited college or university and that they take an exam called the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam. If you do not receive a passing score on this exam, you will have the chance to take it again. You may need to take a test administered by the state board as well. This test will ask general questions about oral health, teeth cleaning and other things that dental hygienists do.

Working in the Field

As a dental hygienist, you must also spend some time working in the field to develop the skills necessary to help your patients. Most hygienists work in dental offices and clinics. You'll meet with patients and examine their teeth before they see a dentist. You will clean their teeth and identify any problem areas, such as signs that they need a deeper cleaning like root planing and scaling. Some hygienists work in dental clinics that offer affordable care for patients who cannot afford to see a dentist. You may also work in a community clinic that offers services for anyone living nearby.

Going Back to School

After a few years of working and gaining experience, give some thought to going back to school. If you have an associate's degree, you can transfer the credits you earned to a bachelor's program and finish that work in around two years without giving up your full-time job. Those who have a bachelor's degree should consider enrolling in a master's program. With a graduate degree, you can gain the skills needed to become and educator or to open your own practice or office.

Dental hygienists help patients care for their teeth and improve their smiles. They usually work in private dental offices but can also work in free or community clinics. If this article that answered the question, "How Long Does it Take to Become a Dental Hygienist?" was helpful, you might be interested in our article titled 5 Job Duties of a Dental Hygienist.