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How to Become a Dental Hygienist in Virginia

Becoming a Dental Hygienist in Virginia

How does someone become a dental hygienist in Virginia?

Today, an estimated 4,250 dental hygienists in Virginia work under the direction of dentists to perform many responsibilities as allied health care professionals. The career of a dental hygienist can offer very attractive compensation, too. The Virginia Department of Education estimates that dental hygienists in the state typically earn between $47,000 and $96,000 a year. (See www.doe.virginia.gov under the health care cluster).

Typically, a dental hygienist will assist dentists in furnishing oral health care to patients. The hygienist by law cannot make a diagnosis but is expected to be able to alert a dentist to potential problems if he or she observes evidence of them during an examination. Additionally, the hygienist often assumes great responsibility in reassuring nervous or anxious patients and in performing some routine dental care functions under the dentist’s supervision.

The kindness and effectiveness of the dental hygienist can make a big difference in a patient’s experience during a dental visit. Perhaps for this reason, the profession of dental hygienist has grown in prestige over the course of recent decades in the United States. Most dentists now depend heavily upon the services of one or more professional dental hygienists in maintaining a modern dental practice.

This guide will explore the basic legal and educational requirements for becoming a dental hygienist in the State of Virginia.

Legal Requirements

The laws governing practicing as a dental hygienist in Virginia are set forth in Chapter 27 of the Legal Code of Virginia. The state requires that dental hygienists complete an accredited college level training program in dental hygiene, pass approved written and clinical examinations, and successfully obtain a license issued by the Virginia Board of Dentistry. It is possible for dental hygienists in good standing who hold a current unrestricted dental hygiene license issued by another U. S. state to apply for permission to practice in Virginia, too.

A license differs from a certification. People who hold certifications in a particular field may sometimes be able to return to school in order to complete the additional educational requirements necessary to apply to obtain a license. It is necessary in Virginia, however, to hold a license, and not just a certificate, in order to work as a dental hygienist.

Educational Requirements

A number of accredited schools in Virginia offer coursework leading to a degree in dental hygiene. The Virginia Department of Education maintains a listing of training programs accredited in the state. Around the nation, over 300 proprietary vocational and state funded colleges and community colleges provide training in the dental hygienist field.

In order to prepare to apply to one of these programs, students may find it useful to study several academic subjects in high school: science courses like chemistry and biology, algebra, and basic communications skills such as reading, writing, and public speaking may all provide a useful foundation for studying dental hygiene at the college level.

Most accredited dental hygienist training programs offer both academic and clinical classes. In order to pass the dental hygienist examinations, students must be able to handle unexpected dental and medical emergency situations correctly.

Thus a typical dental hygiene curriculum will include extensive training in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and oral health care and disease conditions. Dental hygienists must understand the basis for following certain procedures in conducting oral examinations in a safe, hygienic way. It may also be helpful for students to gain practice interacting with dental patients in a clinical environment.

Many dental hygiene students find it useful to obtain training in radiology also, in order to better assist dentists in taking dental radiographs using x-ray equipment.

Additional Information Sources

An excellent source of additional information about the field of dental hygiene appears on the website of the American Dental Hygienists Association (‘the ADHA’) at www.adha.org, a professional organization for dental hygienists. Dental hygienists typically attend ongoing continuing education classes every year.

The American Dental Association (www.ada.org) also maintains a website furnishing useful information about dental hygiene practice. That organization provides extensive information concerning the NBDHE, a written examination completed by graduates of dental hygienist programs.


If you enjoy helping people and want to pursue a satisfying and financially rewarding career, then practicing as a dental hygienist in Virginia may be an excellent career choice.