Matthew L. Tuck, J.D., M.B.A.
Matthew L.’s Answer
This is a great question. I would echo everything that Lizette, Brayden and Jennifer mentioned. Every program is different. Do your research, visit the schools and determine what is the best fit for you.
That said, I would also add one thing. As the others mentioned, generally dental hygienists must have either a 2-year (associates) or 4-year (bachelor) degree. If you opt for the 4-year degree, you will generally qualify for better positions after you graduate. In my experience, many hygienists with a 2-year degree wind up going back to get their bachelors.
While I can appreciate your desire to finish school as quickly and efficiently as possible, college is also an amazing experience that you should try to get the most out of that you can. College will likely be your last chance to really figure out who you are and what you love to do. College offers you an amazing opportunity to meet hundreds of people and be exposed to a whole world of ideas. If you just take the basic classes you need and get out without exploring all the other amazing careers and opportunities out there, you really don't get a second chance to do it. I would strongly recommend that you take classes that are not strictly relevant to your hygienist degree. Take some theatre classes, creative writing, literature, history, or business classes. Join clubs you would not have joined in high school. Try out for a play, join the debate club, whatever. Get to know yourself and find what you love.
If you say you'll have time to do it later after you're out and have a job, that's not usually true. Life has a way of catching up to you. You'll have a full-time job, which takes a lot of energy. You'll probably have rent, car payments, and other expenses that won't let you go back to school full-time. And even you do manage to go back, you likely won't have time for the self-exploration stuff. Being stuck in a job you hate for the next 40 years is a terrible thing.
For now, even before college, try getting an internship at a dental office. They can always use the help and they may even pay you. Even if you can't get an internship, ask a dentist if you can shadow different hygienists. See what they actually do on a daily basis. You may even be able to get high school credit for it.
There is also a chance you may not like being a dental hygienist--it's not for everyone. And while you may like how it seems "on paper", until you've done it for a while you don't really know. All through college, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. My dad was one and we had a bunch of other lawyers in the family. But after I got out of law school and started working as an attorney, I hated it. It just was not for me but it took me 17 years to get out of the law into a field I liked. While I still own a law firm, I don't actually practice. I manage several businesses and do consulting.
Even if your heart is set on dental hygiene, that's fine. But be sure to explore other careers and interests. Take some aptitude tests to find what you're good at and what you like. Your 30-year old self (and 40, and 50 and 60-year old selves) with thank you for it.
Matthew L. recommends the following next steps:
In entry-level programs, dental hygiene students spend most of their time involved in clinical study (direct patient care). Entry-level programs require an average of 2,932 clock hours of curriculum, covering subjects such as:
Basic science courses (general chemistry, anatomy, physiology and pathology),
Dental courses (dental anatomy, oral pathology and radiography), and
Dental hygiene science courses (oral health education/preventive counseling, patient management and community dental health),
Dental hygiene patient care.
Advanced (degree completion and master’s) programs focus less on clinical study and more on preparing dental hygiene students for opportunities in alternative career pathways such as research, education, administration or public health.
To summarize, once you enter a dental hygienist program, you will be learning a lot of science, so getting those science classes in college will help build your knowledge and solidify that foundation. Good luck!