Is a Bachelor's Degree in Dental Hygiene Worth It?

Two dental hygiene students, one male and one female, pose in the dental hygiene teaching space.

Dental hygiene programs prepare students for a rewarding career as healthcare professionals. Pacific’s dental hygiene bachelor’s degree can enhance those opportunities with community engagement, expert training and hands-on experience.

Applications open this upcoming fall for Pacific’s Bachelor’s of Science in Dental Hygiene! Browse admissions requirements and prerequisite courses today.

Regularly ranked as one of the best healthcare support jobs by U.S. News and World Report, dental hygienists enjoy competitive salaries, an adaptable undergraduate degree, and consistent job demand.

Dental hygiene programs combine a rigorous curriculum of dental care and combined with diverse clinical opportunities that hone your skills with hands-on training. 

While dental hygiene is a common associate’s degree, Pacific’s School of Dental Hygiene Studies offers a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene (BSDH), enabling you to earn more and explore more job opportunities.

However, this advanced dental hygiene degree comes with more time spent in school to fulfill dental hygiene program prerequisites and requirements. 

So how long is dental hygienist school? And is getting your BSDH worth it? Let’s dive in.


How Long Does it Take to Become a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygiene students works on a patient at Pacific's Dental Hygiene Clinic.

The majority of dental hygiene programs take place over two uninterrupted years, after successful completion of which you can sit for the national board exam and begin your career.

While associate degrees in dental hygiene do enable you to begin a career in dentistry, higher earning potential and greater job responsibility accompany the advanced BSDH degree.

BSDH degrees also take two years to complete, but they require prerequisite coursework to be taken before starting, making the program feel more similar to a traditional four-year undergraduate pathway. 

For dental hygienists with an associate’s degree, transferring to a four-year college like Pacific to get your BSDH enables you to earn your bachelor’s without taking on extra semesters.

Once licensed, dental hygienists are formally done with the education requirements for their field. However, many dental hygiene programs offer continuing education opportunities that can help you refine techniques and grow your career possibilities.

What’s the Difference Between a Dental Hygienist and a Dental Assistant?

The dental hygienist and dental assistant roles may sound similar, but the education, training, and certifications required are very different.



Dental Hygienist

Dental Assistant


Provide medical treatment, including preventative care, routine teeth and gum cleaning, and preliminary disease checks

Provide non-invasive patient care, including record keeping, taking x-rays, and acquiring molds for dental appliances


Requires a minimum of two years in an accredited academic setting

Requires a variable amount of vocational or community college coursework


Dental hygienist pay is between $67,000-  $81,000 annually

Dental assistant pay is between $40,000 - $47,000 annually

Due to the BSDH education requirements, you can pursue the dental hygienist to dentist pathway more easily through postgraduate education. 

Dental assistants may need to complete a greater number of outlying prerequisites before applying for similar programs.

What are the Prerequisites for Dental Hygienist Programs?

The need for more robust prerequisites is one of the major differences between getting a BSDH and an associate’s degree with a similar career outcome.

These prerequisites, which include a mix of biological science, math, and social science further demonstrate Pacific’s emphasis on creating well-rounded dental hygienists.

By encouraging students to explore courses in psychology, communications, and Spanish, graduates from Pacific's BSDH program are able to practice compassionate, inclusive care.

Pre-dental hygiene programs can naturally help fulfill these prerequisites, leaving no question as to whether you’ll be prepared to pursue your bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene.  

Why Should I Get a BSDH Over an Associate’s Degree?

With the extra time and cost required to get a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, it’s worth it to ask: why not just an associate’s degree instead?

The degree path you choose will ultimately come down to personal preference and circumstance, but here are some of the major benefits of getting your BSDH:

  • More money. Dental hygienist salary stays roughly the same regardless of the degree you choose.

    However, the advanced BSDH degree enables greater upward mobility within the profession, which can result in a higher salary as you grow in your career.

  • More job opportunities. Having a BSDH opens up career opportunities in dental sales, management, and education, with BSDH degree holders able to teach in dental hygiene programs.

  • More preparation for graduate school. A dental hygiene bachelor’s degree — and its associated prerequisite courses — gives BSDH grads more options for professional healthcare education, which includes many programs that require similar coursework.

    Bachelor’s degree holders also have the ability to transition into the innovative dental therapy space, which is growing rapidly. 

Do Dental Hygiene Programs Include Field Training?

Dental hygiene is a hands-on degree, with prospective hygienists getting real-world training early on in their respective programs.

Dental hygiene schooling at Pacific includes hundreds of hours spent in our state-of-the-art dental hygiene clinic — located at our Hillsboro healthcare campus — assisting actual patients under expert supervision.

Helping historically underserved communities, Pacific’s bachelor’s of dental hygiene students also take their skills on the road, giving care to those in need. 

These programs and their field training prepare graduates to take the licensure exams for Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) certification, allowing them to legally practice and begin their career. 

The tangible skills honed through these hands-on experiences uniquely qualifies aspiring BSDH grads to enter the workforce ahead of their peers. 

Want to visit Pacific’s dental hygiene clinic before you apply? Inquire today and shadow a current student for up to 12 hours!