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How having a degree impacts professional growth

April 18, 2023
Looking for something more in your career? A degree might be what you need to open doors and move into new dental hygiene opportunities.

It’s quite an accomplishment to complete a certificate or associate of science in dental hygiene from an accredited program. But what if you want to grow more in your career? Fortunately, there’s room for growth and advancement in our profession. This can include new skills in areas such as management, education, public health, and research.

Alternative roles and the value of a degree

The value of a degree varies depending on someone’s goals and circumstances, but it will have a significant impact on personal and professional development. A degree opens opportunities for career advancement, increased knowledge and judgement, increased earnings, and a competitive advantage. Hygienists who further their education are able to work in a variety of health-care settings, integrating dental care into the health-care system to meet the complex needs of the public.1

The profession is rapidly changing, and more education expands knowledge about new technologies, develops critical thinking skills, and advances communication abilities and a greater understanding of the field. Earning a bachelor’s in dental hygiene requires coursework in research methods and evidence evaluation to give clinicians the tools to critically evaluate research studies and determine the most appropriate evidence to make informed decisions in practice.

You might also be interested in: Pursuing my MSDH: It was worth the journey!

Furthering the profession as an educator

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9% increase in change of employment from 2021–2031, with a projected 16,300 openings for dental hygienists each year.2 In order to educate future hygienists and grow the profession, dental hygiene faculty are needed. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) adopted new guidelines that require full- and part-time faculty to have a baccalaureate or higher degree. This guideline means it’s critical for hygienists to pursue their education beyond a certificate or associate degree. A 2020 American Dental Association survey found that programs are expected to lose 10% of faculty to retirement in the next five years.3 It also projected that 35% of these positions would result in vacancies, making it extremely difficult for programs to run at full capacity.3

Selecting a program

RDH to BSDH programs take 15 to 16 months and require 32 credit hours. Distance learning allows students to take courses online. This curriculum is desirable for nontraditional students who are managing their career and family obligations. Students are often required to post and respond to online posting boards and complete case scenarios in addition to other online activities. When choosing an institution, prospective students should review all admissions policies to ensure they’re following the application process and meeting the requirements.

There are currently 51 bachelor’s degree completion programs for licensed dental hygienists who hold an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene.4 Southern Illinois University Carbondale, for example, has a fully online BS degree option in dental hygiene management and education. This program is designed for licensed hygienists who hold an associate degree or certificate from a CODA-accredited dental hygiene program.

Though two years of training is required for a registered dental hygienist to practice, it’s becoming more common for hygienists to earn a bachelor’s degree. By continuing their education, hygienists create opportunities for growth, including job opportunities outside of clinical practice, increased knowledge to make evidenced-based decisions, higher salaries, and educating future hygienists.


  1. Sunell S, McFarlane R, Biggar HC. Differences between diploma and baccalaureate dental hygiene education in British Columbia: a qualitative perspective. Int J Dent Hyg. 2017;15:236–248.
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dental Hygienists. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-1
  3. Istrate EC, Stolberg R. Allied Dental 2020: An analysis of the results of the 2020 ADEA survey of allied eental program directors in the United States. ADEA Education Research Series. Issue 2, October 2021.
  4. American Dental Education Association. Dental Hygiene by the Numbers. https://www.adea.org/GoDental/Future_Dental_Hygienists/Dental_hygiene_by_the_numbers.aspx