Applying To Dental Hygiene School vs. Dental School

Applying To Dental Hygiene School vs. Dental School

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Applying To Dental Hygiene School vs. Dental School

Applying to dental hygiene school vs. dental school will vary from school to school and state to state. There is no one-size-fits-all roadmap for becoming a dentist vs. dental hygienist. Every single college or university will have slightly different application requirements. You must research each one before you plan on applying. The most important things to consider are:

  • Deadlines and due-by dates
  • Prerequisite classes required
  • Entrance exams and testing dates
  • Your career goals
  • The individual requirements of each specific dental or dental hygiene program
  • Making good grades in your science classes

You can apply to dental hygiene school without a college degree, because hygiene programs offer either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. But dentistry is a post-graduate doctoral degree, so you’ll probably already need a bachelor’s under your belt whenever it’s time to apply.

Dental Hygienists vs. Dentists

Comparing dentists and dental hygienists is like comparing doctors to registered nurses. They require different types of training, different classes, take different board exams and perform different duties. If you know you want to go into dentistry but aren’t sure whether you want to be a dentist vs. dental hygienist, I highly recommend shadowing or observing in different dental offices to try to choose one or the other. Because both education pathways and their requirements are completely different from one another.  Rarely if ever will you find yourself in a position where you’re qualified to apply to dental school in addition to dental hygiene school. However, it can possibly happen the other way around if you want hygiene as a back-up to your dental school plan.

Dental Hygiene As A Prerequisite To Dental School?

Do you have to go to dental hygiene school before becoming a dentist? No, but some people do! Dental hygiene and dental school are completely different. Yes, some of the classes do overlap and yes, some of the prerequisites are the same, but you might find that even if you go through dental hygiene school you still don’t have all of the required classes and exams necessary to apply to dental school. 

Yes, some people go into dental hygiene first, because it gives them experience in the field and they take their dental prerequisite classes at the same time. This could hypothetically make you a more competitive dental school applicant, but it’s definitely not a requirement. However, if your dental school requires a bachelor’s degree to apply and you don’t want to major in biology or chemistry or something along those lines, you might consider a dental hygiene degree as another option. Just remember that there WILL be extra classes you’ll need to take that are required to be admitted to dental school that aren’t included in the hygiene curriculum.

Always, always, always look at the admissions information for the dental school(s) you plan to apply to. Make yourself a checklist of the courses you need to take, and build your degree plan around that. 

Applying To Dental School

Getting into dental school is extremely competitive. In addition to needing a 4-year degree, you’ll also want to have high grades in all of your science coursework, which is pretty heavy in both biology and chemistry. You’ll probably also have to take classes in physics and psychology.

Pretty much every dental school in the United States requires a specific dental entrance exam called the DAT. The higher the score on your DAT, the better chances you have of being admitted. 

A competitive dental school applicant will also have a long resume showing that they’re well rounded as a volunteer, shadowing experience in dental practices, and extracurricular activities. But be honest. Lying about your qualifications will catch up with you, so never fudge your skillset. 

If you get a chance, take a tour of the school or enroll in pre-dental clubs in college and high school. That way you can make some connections and help yourself stand apart from the “competition” once it’s time to file your formal application. 

Both dental and dental hygiene school applicants need to study hard and make good grades. So, if you need a tutor, invest in one. You’ll be glad that you did. You might even consider retaking a course to raise your grade. 

Applying To Dental Hygiene School

When you plan on applying to dental hygiene school, you’ll need to have lots of science prerequisite classes already completed. Keep in mind that some of those classes will have prerequisites of their own. For example, if you’re taking microbiology, you’ll need to take an introduction to biology before that, and you might need college algebra before you can take biology. Just because a dental hygiene school lists 5-7 classes as prerequisites doesn’t mean that’s all you’ll need to take. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll still need a full 1-2 years of college under your belt before going into even an associate’s degree dental hygiene program. 

The biggest choice you’ll need to make when applying to dental hygiene school is do you want an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree? Your bachelor’s will require a handful of extra core classes depending on the university that you attend. But both get paid the same amount and can perform the same duties after graduation and passing board exams. One just requires a little extra time in school, which is worth it if you want to have additional career options in the future, outside of traditional patient care.

Check Individual School’s Requirements

Every single dental or dental hygiene program has its own requirements and prerequisite classes. Yes, a lot of them will be fairly similar to one another, but they will not be identical from program to program or state to state. 

When you register for your college classes, it’s a great idea to already have a printout of the prerequisites required for the dental or hygiene program that you plan on applying to. My advice: keep your options open. Every program is super competitive, so having the prerequisites complete for multiple programs will give you a better chance of having everything ready regardless of which one you’re admitted to. 

These requirements can change yearly, so always check back to make sure you have the most recent information. Better yet, contact their admissions department directly and find out which classes are mandatory prerequisites that you’ll need to take. 

Along those lines, you’ll also want to find out which entrance exams the college uses for their dental vs. dental hygiene school. Since these tests need to be completed by a certain date, they can significantly impact your application timeline. Deadlines are important, so write them down. You’ll want to plan several months if not a full year ahead of time. 

Which is it, Dental Hygiene School or Dental School

Deciding between dental hygiene school vs. dental school boils down to what you want to do with your career. While some of the prerequisites will overlap a little bit between a dentist vs. hygienist, applying to either program will vary significantly. Hygiene requires a lot of science classes, whereas dentistry usually requires a full four-year degree as part of the application process. Even the entrance exams are completely different. But both usually require some type of observing or shadowing experience, good grades (especially in your science classes), and overall well-rounded applicants. Study hard, connect with professionals in the field, and always read the school’s requirements!

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Last updated onSeptember 22, 2023Here is our process

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