Pre-Dental Health Science


Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health. Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job. They clean and polish teeth with both hand and powered tools, as well as ultrasonic devices. In some cases, they remove stains with an air polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a powered tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems. Dental hygienists help patients develop and keep good oral health. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They also may give advice to patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral-care devices. Other tasks hygienists may perform vary by state. Some states allow hygienists to place and carve filling materials, temporary fillings, and periodontal dressings.

Job Market & Salary

Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow by 38 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to spur the demand for preventative dental services, which dental hygienists often provide. New and increasingly accurate technologies to help diagnose oral health problems are also expected to increase demand. For example, new tests use saliva samples that a hygienist takes to spot early signs of oral cancer.

As their practices expand, dentists will hire more hygienists to perform routine dental care, allowing the dentist to see more patients. Also, as the large baby boomer population ages and people keep more of their original teeth than previous generations, the need to maintain and treat these teeth will continue to drive the need for hygienists’ services.

The median annual wage of dental hygienists was $68,250 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,000, and the top 10 percent earned more than $93,820. Pay for dental hygienists may be for each hour worked, each day worked, on a regular yearly salary, or on commission. Some dental hygienists also get benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and contributions to their retirement fund. However, benefits vary by employer and may be available only to full-time workers.


Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene to enter the occupation. Certificates, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees in dental hygiene are also available but are less common among dental hygienists. Private dental offices usually require a minimum of an associate’s degree or certificate in dental hygiene. A bachelor's or master's degree is usually required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs. High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Some dental hygiene programs also require applicants to have completed at least one year of college. Specific entrance requirements vary from one school to another. Most schools offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Hygienists study anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography, and periodontology, which is the study of gum disease.

Program & Requirements

The School of Dental Health Science at Pacific University offers a dental hygiene entry-level program leading to a Bachelor of Science degree in Dental Health. This program includes two years of dental health courses completed at Pacific University, following completion of required prerequisite coursework. Students must complete all prerequisite coursework prior to beginning the dental hygiene program. Enrollment in this program is limited and admission is selective.


1 Semester Chemistry (with lab)

CHEM 220


BIOL 308 (see advising center for alternates)

Human Anatomy & Physiology (with lab)

BIOL 224 and BIOL 240

English Composition / Writing

ENGW 201

Interpersonal Communication / Speech

MEDA 201

1 Semester Spanish (must be a college level)

SPAN 101 or higher


PSY 150


SOC 101 or SOC 102


MATH 207, PSY 350, or SOC 301


(one course in art, music, or theater)


EXIP 281

Medical Terminology

EXMB 303


(8 semester hours in language, literature, philosophy, religion, ethics, history, media arts, and/or FYS)

Students must complete a minimum of 48 semester hours or 72 quarter hours prior to starting the dental hygiene entry-level program.

In order to be considered for Admissions, applicants need to have a Natural Science and Last 45 Semester Hour GPA of a 2.5 or higher.

A minimum of 30 hours of dental observation is required. If an applicant has worked or currently works in a dental setting, they are exempt from this requirement, although observation of a dental hygienist specifically is preferred.

The program is committed to public health and requires at least 10 hours of the total observation hours to be in public health. Dental public health settings provide care to specified target populations that lack access to traditional dental services. Settings may include a public dental clinic, dental school clinic, dental hygiene school clinic, mobile dental van, dental clinics in community health centers, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, prisons and other institutional settings. These hours are required before entrance into the program, but preferably done before submission of the application. Even if an applicant currently works in a dental setting, 10 hours of observation in a public health dental setting is still required.

More Information

Pacific University School of Dental Health Science
American Dental Hygienists Association
American Dental Association
American Dental Education Association

Program Contacts

Lisa Rowley
Program Director, School of Dental Health Science

Leah Pelto
Assistant Director of Graduate and Professional Admissions