A registered dental hygienist (RDH) is a licensed dental
professional who specializes in preventive oral health,
typically focusing on techniques in oral hygiene. Dental
hygienists provide three types of services to their patients.
The first of these is preventive services to promote and
maintain good oral health. The second is educational services to
help patients develop behaviors that promote better oral heath
and help them understand the importance of practicing these
behaviors. The third type of service provided is therapeutic
services which are treatments meant to stop disease and maintain
healthy tissues in the mouth. Local dental regulations determine
the scope of practice of dental hygienists. In most
jurisdictions, hygienists work for a dentist, and some are
licensed to administer local anesthesia. Common procedures
performed by hygienists include cleanings known as prophylaxis,
scaling and root planning for patients with periodontal disease,
taking of prescribed radio graphs, dental sealants,
administration of fluoride, and providing instructions for
proper oral hygiene and care.
Training to become a Dental Hygienist in the United States
Dental hygienists in the United States must be graduates from a
dental hygiene program, with either an associate degree (most
common), a certificate, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree
from a dental hygienist school that is accredited by the
American Dental Association (ADA).
All dental hygienists in the United States must be licensed by
the state in which they practice, after completing a minimum of
two years of school and passing a written board as well as a
clinical board exam. State requirements vary by state, and are
controlled by state dental boards.
Dental hygienists school programs usually require both general
education courses and courses specific to the field of dental
hygiene. General education courses important to dental hygiene
degrees include college level algebra, biology, and chemistry.
Courses specific to dental hygiene may include anatomy, oral
anatomy, materials science, pharmacology, radiography,
periodontology, nutrition, and clinical skills.
A Bachelor's of Science in
Dental Hygiene is typically a four-year program. Students
entering a bachelor's degree program are required to have a
high school diploma or equivalent, but many dental
hygienists with an associate's degree or certification enter
the bachelor's degree programs to expand their clinical
expertise and help advance their careers.
Graduate degrees in the field of dental hygiene are
typically two-year programs and are completed after the
bachelor's degree. Common graduate courses in dental hygiene
include Healthcare Management, Lab Instruction, and Clinical
After completing one of the more than 200 accredited dental
hygiene programs in the United States, dental hygienists
must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure
requirements for becoming a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH)
vary from state to state, but most require a two-year
degree, a written examination, and a clinical examination.
The National Board Dental Hygiene Examination is intended to
fulfill the written examination requirements. The clinical
examination is typically administered by the state licensing