So, you’re thinking about a career as a dental hygienist.

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the dental hygienist workforce is currently made up of 207,900 people in the United States.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 40,900 new dental hygienist jobs are expected in the next few years.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Programs typically take 3 years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

For more information, read How to Become a Dental Hygienist.

What type of schooling does a dental hygienist need?

Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in dental hygiene are also available but are less common. A bachelor’s or master’s degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

Dental hygiene programs are commonly found in community colleges, technical schools, and universities. In 2017, the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which is a part of the American Dental Association, accredited more than 300 dental hygiene programs.

Programs typically take between 2 to 4 years to complete and offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Areas of study include physiology, nutrition, radiography, pathology, medical ethics, anatomy, patient management, and periodontics, which is the study of gum disease.

High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in biology, chemistry, and math. Most dental hygiene programs also require applicants to complete prerequisites, which often include college-level courses. Specific requirements vary by school.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become a dental hygienist?

Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. In most states, a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program and passing grades on written and clinical examinations are required for licensure. To maintain licensure, hygienists must complete continuing education requirements. For specific requirements, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

Many jobs also require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

All states in the US accept the certification obtained through the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) as fulfilling all or part of the requirements for licensure.

How long does it take to become a dental hygienist?

If you want to become a dental hygienist, the two most common options are to get into an associate’s or a bachelor’s program.

Associate’s degree programs typically take two years to complete on a full-time basis. Bachelor’s degree programs are four years long and include some clinical or practical work to help you get familiar with working in live environments. Therefore, while bachelor’s degree programs are twice as long as associate’s degree programs, the additional training can help you land better-paying jobs.

How much does it cost to become a dental hygienist?

According to, schooling fees are:

  • Median In-state Public Tuition: $6,383
  • Median Out-of-state Private Tuition: $30,600

NBDHE: $400

What is the NBDHE?

The National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) is the standard assessment tool for state dental boards. The test is administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). The purpose of the test is to assist state boards in determining the qualifications of dental hygienists who seek licensure to practice in the state.

How many questions are on the NBDHE?

There are 350 multiple-choice questions in total, which are divided into two components.

What are the categories on the NBDHE?

Component A: 200 questions

  • Scientific Basis for Dental Hygiene Practice
    • Anatomy
    • Physiology
    • Biochemistry and nutrition
    • Microbiology and immunology
    • Pathology
    • Pharmacology
  • Provision of Clinical Dental Hygiene Services
    • Assessing patient characteristics
    • Obtaining and interpreting radiographs
    • Planning and managing dental hygiene care
    • Performing periodontal procedures
    • Using preventive agents
    • Providing supportive treatment services
    • Professional responsibility
  • Community Health/Research Principles
    • Promoting health and preventing disease within groups
    • Participating in community programs
    • Analyzing scientific literature, applying research results, and understanding statistical concepts

Component B: 150 questions referring to 12-15 dental hygiene patient cases. These case-based items address the following:

  • Obtaining/interpreting radiographs
  • Using preventive agents
  • Professional responsibility
  • Planning and managing dental hygiene care
  • Assessing patient characteristics
  • Providing supportive treatment services

How long does the NBDHE typically last?

The NBDHE is separated into two test blocks of 3.5 hours each, with a half-hour lunch break in between. There are also two optional 15-minute unscheduled breaks.

What is the passing grade needed for the NBDHE?

The NBDHE is scored using a scale score, which ranges from 49 to 99; a score of 75 represents the minimum, passing score. Candidates who pass the exam are given only a pass/fail notification. However, candidates who do not pass the exam are given a numerical score. Test takers can expect to receive their examination results about three weeks after the testing appointment.

How many times can you take the NBDHE?

Candidates who have not passed the NBDHE may apply for reexamination after 90 days. Candidates who have not passed the examination after 3 attempts must wait 12 months after the third attempt before they can reapply to take the examination. The JCNDE has a 5 years/5 attempts eligibility rule, which says that candidates must pass the examination within 5 years of their first attempt or within 5 examination attempts, whichever comes first.