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Careers in Dental Hygiene

What is it?
Dental hygienists are licensed providers of preventive dental care. They are responsible for providing treatment to prevent oral and periodontal diseases. They provide clinical, therapeutic, and educational services under the direction of a dentist. The duties of the hygienist may include dental health education,
oral x-rays, oral preventive therapies, fluoride treatments, treatment of gum disease, and preliminary exams.  
Dental assistants should not be confused with dental hygienists. Dental assistants do not require licensure. They perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties. They work chairside as dentists examine and treat patients. They make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental chair, prepare them for treatment, and obtain their dental records. In the past, dental assistants didn't need any formal training at all. Increasingly, however, dentists prefer assistants who have completed a 1-2 year training program in dental assisting.

Will I get a job?
Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations through 2014, ranking among the fastest growing occupations, in response to increasing demand for dental care and the greater utilization of hygienists to perform services previously performed by dentists. Job prospects are expected to remain excellent.

Population growth and greater retention of natural teeth will stimulate demand for dental hygienists. Older dentists, who have been less likely to employ dental hygienists, are leaving the occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to employ one or even two hygienists. In addition, as dentists’ workloads increase, they are expected to hire more hygienists to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning, so that they may devote their own time to more profitable procedures. (Source:

Specifically for the northern Virginia region, the demand for dental hygienists is expected to grow 43 percent by 2020. (Source: The Health Care Workforce Shortage: An Analysis of the Scope and Impact on Northern Virginia, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2005.)

What will I get paid?
Median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $28.05 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $22.72 and $33.82 an hour.
Earnings vary by geographic location, employment setting, and years of experience. Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, salary, or commission basis. (Source:

Earnings for dental assistants depend on their duties and responsibilities, and the dentist that they work for. In 2004, dental assistants in Virginia earned salaries in the $19-45,000 range, with a median of about $29,000. (

Educational and Career Pathways
Most dental hygiene 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 Dental Hygienist must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program, successfully complete the National Board Exam, and pass state clinical exams for licensure to practice

Where to study in the northern Virginia region
Associate in Applied Science Degree
Northern Virginia Community College
Medical Education Campus    
6699 Springfield Center Drive
Springfield, VA  22150            
Contact: Edith Tynan, Dental Hygiene Assistant Dean, 703-822-6575,

Germanna Community College

This program is an extension of Northern Virginia Community College’s existing Dental Hygiene Program. The program will consist of a combination of traditional and distance learning modalities. The curriculum is designed to prepare selected students to serve in a dynamic and growing health profession as valuable members of the Dental Health team. The Program is also designed to accommodate those students who wish to transfer to a four-year college or university to complete the baccalaureate degree in a health related field.
Contact Information: Misty Sissom, Phone (540) 423-9823, E-mail:


Old Dominion University    
Gene W. Hirschfeld School of Dental Hygiene
College of Health Sciences
4608 Hampton Blvd., Room 244-E
Norfolk, VA 23529-0499
Deanne Shuman, BSDH, MS, Ph.D — Professor and Chair
Phone: (757) 683-3338 Ext.: Fax: (757) 683-5239
Web Site:
Degrees Awarded
Degree Completion: BS-DH


Dental Assistant

Chairside Dental Assisting
Office of Continuing Education
Northern Virginia Community College
Medical Education Campus
6699 Springfield Center Drive
Springfield, Va. 22150
Contact: Christiane Silva @ 703-822-6523 and
Sixteen week program prepares you to:

  • Work as a chairside Dental Assistant in a general dentistry practice under the supervision of a licensed dentist or dental hygienist.
  • Assist the dentist in a variety of dental procedures including prostheses, cavity treatment, and other dental disease treatment and management.
  • Understand general dental office practices.
  • Take the Virginia Dental Radiation Safety certification exam for dental assistants who work with x-rays.
Become Healthcare Provider CPR credentialed by American Heart Association.
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