Whether you are just now looking into a career or have already started down your career path, you may be wondering about the possibility of obtaining a bachelors degree in dental hygiene. While such a degree is certainly not a requirement to enter this growing field, it may be a good degree to pursue if you want to stay in the field for a long time, especially if you have an interest in serving certain populations through public health or school programs. It can also give you a leg up if you are interested in pursuing possibilities as an instructor in the field.
Entry Level Requirements
As mentioned, a bachelors degree (typically a four year degree) is not a requirement to begin work as a hygienist in the dental field. Typically, most people who want to enter the field begin in a certificate program or an associate's degree, which takes only two years to complete. An associate's degree is an excellent way to start, since having that degree enables you to pursue the licensing tests you will need to take in order to actually practice. Although this can be a good way to get your start, however, you may not want to end your education there, especially if you are looking at dental hygiene as a long term career. In that case, you may want to go on and complete a bachelor (BA or BS) program at a university, which will mean another couple of years of schooling.
Why a Four Year Degree?
A four year degree will show your seriousness about pursuing this work as a career, and open up some other possibilities within the profession, including working as an instructor for other hygienists needing training. Career goals in public health or in schools, nursing homes, or other places where specific populations are in need of preventative dental care are other good reasons to consider the longer degree. It makes sense when you think about it that a four year degree will offer you more time to learn how to do those specific kinds of work outside of the general dentist office setting where many hygienists serve.
Since so many people begin their education in this field with a two year degree, there are a number of degree completion programs at universities that expect or require that you will already have such a degree in order to enter their program and complete at BA. You can find a list of such programs at the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA), along with lists of entry level programs and programs dubbed "re-entry" which are geared toward professionals who have worked in the field previously but left it and now need further training to go back into such work.
Although a four year degree isn't necessary in this field, it can be a big help to those who have long-term professional goals in mind. The field is currently seeing a big surge of growth, especially since many patients are more deeply understanding the importance of preventative dental care for themselves and their families. A bachelors degree in dental hygiene can open more professional doors and also provide the possibility of a higher salary in a field that is already stable and will continue to grow.