U.S. Dental Hygiene Programs provide required entry level and advanced professional dental hygienist training. As a result of varied demographic and technological trends, the dental hygienist profession is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States. Working under the supervision of dentists, dental hygienists play an important role in the delivery of oral healthcare services. As such, every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed and while requirements may vary by state, most state licensure rules require dental hygienists to have entry level professional training from accredited dental hygiene programs or dental hygienist schools.
In 2006, there were 286 U.S. Dental Hygiene Programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Most of these programs grant an associate degree, although some also offer a certificate, a bachelor's degree, or a master's degree. A minimum of an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene is generally required for practice in a private dental office. A bachelor's or master's degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.
The curriculum at U.S. Dental Hygiene Programs spans content in general education, dental science, biomedical science and dental hygiene science. Dental hygiene students can expect classroom training that includes coursework in written and oral communications, anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, general pathology, psychology, immunology, physiology, sociology, nutrition, tooth morphology, oral embryology, oral histology, radiography, oral pathology, head and neck anatomy, periodontology, pain management, community dental health, patient management, dental materials, oral health education, hazard and infection control management, providing services to individuals with blood-borne infectious diseases, and the legal and ethical issues of the dental hygiene practice.
U.S. Dental Hygiene Programs supplement this classroom instruction with extensive dental hygiene practice in clinical settings. Students can expect at least 6 hours of clinical practice each week during the preclinical coursework phase of their training. As students advance through the training program their clinical practice time increases to at least 12 to 16 hours each week with patients in clinical settings. This supervised clinical practice is designed to ensure that students develop the clinical capabilities and the proper judgment to practice as a dental hygienist.
Although the training curricula is similar across dental hygiene programs, there can be distinct differences between programs in terms of admission requirements, selection criteria and student and alumni support services. Accordingly, interested applications should check with respective U.S. Dental Hygiene Programs to learn about their admission standards, selection criteria, training curricula and support services available to their students and alumni.
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