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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Dental Hygiene Associate vs Bachelor Degree: Why Advance Your Career?

April 14, 2021


One of the benefits of becoming a dental hygienist is that you can gain access to the working world relatively quickly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you can become a registered dental hygienist with an associate or bachelor degree. Master degree programs do exist but are uncommon. 

While an associate degree in dental hygiene may be enough to get you started in the field, those interested in a different pathway such as teaching may find it beneficial to pursue a bachelor degree in dental hygiene (BSDH). A BSDH is a degree you can complete after you’ve entered the working world that may help you change careers and get out of a clinical setting.

Associate vs Bachelor Degree in Dental Hygiene 

An associate degree in dental hygiene allows you to enter the profession after meeting your state and national qualifications. A hygienist may want to pursue additional opportunities within the field and that’s where a bachelor’s degree can help.

Associate Degree 

A Dental Hygiene associate degree program can help you achieve licensure to become a registered dental hygienist. The biggest pro is that you can get into the working world fast. Some programs, like SJVC’s Dental Hygiene AS, can be completed in as little as 16 months due to the year-round curriculum. 

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for dental hygienists was $76,220 in May 2019. 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 $53,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $103,340. Be advised, salary for entry-level positions may be lower than the national average.


A BSDH helps prepare you for more advanced roles in dental hygiene or for non-clinical roles. There may be some benefits to advancing your education. The BLS reports that advancing your education with any degree may lead to better earnings and a more secure career. The BLS reports that in 2019, on average, those with a bachelor degree in any subject, not specifically dental hygiene, earned $361 more a week than those with an associate degree. This also correlates to lower levels of unemployment. The BLS reported that those with an associate degree had a 2.7% unemployment rate compared to those with a bachelor degree reporting a 2.2% unemployment rate. 

When is the Right Time to Pursue a BSDH?

While you may go into a four-year BSDH program at the beginning of your education, it may be beneficial to use a shorter completer program after you’ve received an associate degree and have been working for some time. 

Get your BSDH at San Joaquin Valley College

In SJVC’s BSDH program, you’ll learn management and leadership skills that may help you advance your career in dental hygiene. Courses include:

  • Teaching Dental Hygiene in Theory and Practice — This course provides practical, evidence-based teaching strategies for dental hygienists wishing to develop their skills as clinical educators. Dental hygienists will learn strategies for instruction, assessment, evaluation, and coaching for both novice and experienced students. Special topics include teaching of mixed-level groups, balancing teaching with the provision of patient care, engaging patients, and motivating students. 
  • Community Oral Health Assessment and Program Planning — This course is designed to provide students with the framework necessary to identify a target population and assess, plan, implement and evaluate a community oral health program. Topics include assessment methods; diagnosis of community needs; program planning, budgeting and community resources; program implementation; program evaluation and documentation. 
  • Dental Practice Management — This course provides professionals a foundation in practice management of dental teams by addressing the skills required to effective team leadership, staff management, establishing goals, appointment management, use of financial systems and patience needs assessments. Topics include: Marketing; professional standards; risk management; legal and ethical issues; business office technology; dental office documents and the storage of business records; and business office systems.

SJVC’s BSDH is offered conveniently online. If you’re interested in taking your dental hygiene training to the next level, request more information.

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