Pre-Dental Hygiene at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) website, American Dental Education Association (ADEA) website, American Dental Association (ADA) website, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) website,  and the UHM 2015-2016 Catalog.

Dental Hygiene Programs in Hawai`i: UH Mānoa School of Dental Hygiene, UH Maui College Dental Hygiene Program

Field Description

Dental hygienists are healthcare professionals who work closely with dentists to prevent and treat oral diseases and to protect patients’ oral and overall health.

Dental hygienists perform a number of services, including patient screening (e.g., assessment of oral health, reviewing patient histories, dental charting), taking and developing dental radiographs (X-rays), performing dental cleanings (e.g., removal of calculus and plaque, applying preventive materials to teeth), educating patients about nutrition and oral hygiene strategies, and office management.

Work Setting

Although most dental hygienists work in dental offices or clinics, some work in hospitals, universities, corporations, governmental and non-profit agencies, and other settings. Career opportunities in dental hygiene are abundant, and in addition to clinical practice, include jobs in education, oral health research, administration, public health, and entrepreneurship.

For more information on job outlook, click here.

Related Careers: dentistry, dental assistant, dental laboratory technician, nursing.

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Dental Hygiene Programs

Years of Schooling Required to Become a Dental Hygienist:

3+ years of education

  • Certificate or Associate’s Degree (2-3 years) or
  • Bachelor’s Degree (4 years);
  • Master’s Degree (~2 years, optional).

Degree Conferred

Upon graduation from a dental hygiene program, students are awarded the Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene (ASDH), Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (BSDH), or Master of Science in Dental Hygiene (MSDH), among others, depending on the program they enrolled in. Graduates of accredited certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s programs are eligible for licensure and professional practice; master’s programs prepare students further in areas of education, administration, and research.

What to Expect in a Dental Hygiene Program

Dental hygiene programs consist of roughly 2,900 hours of curriculum, including didactic instruction in areas such as English, social sciences, basic sciences, and dental sciences, as well as supervised clinical instruction. Most programs also require a clinical rotation in a community or public health setting.

Post-Baccalaureate Program/Options

Although all entry-level (certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s) programs prepare students for clinical practice, dental hygienists who hold bachelor’s degrees are more competitive for hiring and promotion, have greater career options in areas such as education and public health, and are eligible to pursue advanced degrees. All programs provide around the same number of didactic and laboratory hours, although bachelor’s programs typically provide more clinical hours and additional instruction in written communication, chemistry, oral health counseling, and patient management. Degree completion programs are available for licensed dental hygienists who hold a certificate or associate’s degree who wish to complete a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene or a related field.

The Licensing Examination(s)

Licensure requirements for dental hygienists are set by individual states. Most states require, in addition to state-based examinations and other requirements, that students obtain a passing score on the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, a written comprehensive exam. Licensed dental hygienists hold the title of “Registered Dental Hygienist” (RDH). All dental hygienists must be licensed to practice.

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Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the schools you are interested in attending. Some dental hygiene schools accept students directly from high school; others accept students at the sophomore or junior level; others accept students only after they have completed a set number of credits or course prerequisites.

More than 25% of the programs in this field require the following UHM courses for admission:

PHYL 141/141L and 142/142LHuman Anatomy and Physiology I and II8 cr.
CHEM 161General Chemistry I3 cr.
MICR 130/140LGeneral Microbiology5 cr.
ENG 100Composition I3 cr.
PSY 100Survey of Psychology3 cr.
SOC 100Introduction to Sociology3 cr.
COMG 151 or 251Speech and Public Speaking3 cr.
Additional requirements may include certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or courses such as biology, college-level mathematics, biochemistry, nutrition, and humanities.

Click here for a list of UHM’s School of Dental Hygiene’s prerequisite requirements.

Experience and Personal Development

Gaining experience in the health professional field in which you are interested is a huge benefit in figuring out if that is the field you want to work in and provides you with a deeper understanding of the field. Some professional schools want to see that you have experience in their field and some schools may require a large amount of particular experience such as hands-on, patient contact experience or experience shadowing a professional in that field. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become strong professionals in the field. Schools may see this through the experiences students had.

Admissions committees seek students who have completed the pre-requisites, have high overall and science/math GPAs, performed well on the entrance exam, and have balanced course loads which are challenging yet realistic. These are indications that students are capable of completing the curriculum. Opportunities for exam preparation can be found here: Entrance Exam Preparation Opportunities.

Experiences can provide proof that students will likely be strong practitioners. Admission committees seek students who demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service which can be shown through community service or volunteer work. Committees also want to see high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic as well as demonstrated maturity through judgement, responsibility, and dependability. Work ethics can be shown through employment opportunities.

Committees seek students who understand the field and what it entails. Different experiences that could provide exposure to the field include enrichment opportunitiesinternshipsshadowing, or volunteering. Through experiences students may show that they have excellent communication skills and a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life, and potentially gain strong letters of recommendation from supervisors.

Students should aim to have a well-rounded life that balances academics which include a broad liberal arts education with the humanities and social sciences, research, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.) through Clubs and Organizations.

When applying for professional school, you will be asked to list and describe the experiences you have gained in preparation for the profession of your interest. Rather than having to recall from memory all your experiences, having an experience log will allow you to fill out your application with more ease. Students can use their C.V. as a record of these experiences. However, an experience log can include additional beneficial information, such as your employer’s contact information and a reflection portion of what you learned. You may choose to make a personalized experience log or use our sample by clicking here.

Please click on the following links to explore the different opportunities.

Researching Schools

There are currently about 335 accredited entry-level dental hygiene programs in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths. Students can research schools using program directories provided by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) website.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.

To find schools that are a good fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help with this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all programs, which usually includes all 335 programs;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your entrance exam scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools on your Long List into “Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety,” ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to. Be sure to apply to schools in all 3 categories (“Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety”) and to select schools that you would really want to attend if/when accepted.

Here is more information on researching and selecting schools to apply for. If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and chat with students.

Entrance Exam

Many dental hygiene schools require applicants to submit scores from the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), ACT, or other standardized tests. Students are encouraged to check with their prospective schools regarding their specific exam requirements.

Commercial Test Preparation Companies

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Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to dental hygiene schools: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview.

1. Primary applications for some schools must be filed with the ADEA Dental Hygiene Centralized Application Service (DHCAS), which is a centralized application system. It asks you to include professional and volunteer experience and a personal statementOnce the application is complete, DHCAS forwards it to whichever schools the students has designated. The DHCAS application fee is about $95 for the first program and $45 for each additional program. For schools with rolling admission, submit your primary application as early as possible.

2. Secondary applications, or supplementary forms are specific to individual schools; dental hygiene schools send these to applicants only after they have received the DHCAS application. Both frequently request additional information, essays, letters of recommendation, and/or fees. Some schools screen applicants before the applications or forms are sent out. However, secondary applications and supplementary forms differ in that the latter is not a formal application.

Note: Most dental hygiene schools do not participate in DHCAS. Students interested in applying to other schools must complete each of their prospective schools’ individual applications. For these schools, the application process consist only of steps 2 and 3.

3. Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications (or supplementary forms), a few dental hygiene schools invite promising applicants to interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs incurred while interviewing, including airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals. To learn more about interviews, attend our upcoming interview-related orientations and workshops hereFor sample interview questions click here.


  • The more you know about the school, the better your chances of being accepted.
  • Contact individual schools’ admissions offices to find out how they handle:
      • Advanced Placement (AP) credits
      • International Baccalaureate (IB) credits
      • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
      • military credits
      • courses taken at a community college
      • non-US coursework
      • courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
      • residency issues
      • time limits on prerequisite courses

Financial Aid

Financial Planning is a crucial step in applying to dental hygiene schools. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after dental hygiene school. To learn more about financial planning, click here.

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Contact Information

School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene
Webster 201
2528 McCarthy Mall
Honolulu, HI 96822

Department of Dental Hygiene
Hemenway 200-B
2445 Campus Road
Telephone: (808)956-8821

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Additional Information

UH Mānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to dental hygiene school.
AssociationsAmerican Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA)
American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
American Dental Association (ADA)
Programs in HawaiiUHM's School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene
UH Maui College - Dental Hygiene
Researching Schools ADHA - Dental Hygiene Programs
Application ADEA - Dental Hygiene Centralized Application Service (DHCAS)

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