The D.C. Board of Dentistry regulates the practice of dentistry and dental hygiene in the District of Columbia.
In addition to licensing dental hygienists in Washington D.C., the Board limits what functions these oral health professionals may perform, which include:
- Performing a preliminary dental examination and complete prophylaxis
- Charting cavities during a preliminary examination, prophylaxis, and polishing
- Taking dental x-rays
- Applying medicinal agents to teeth for prophylaxis purposes
- Instructing patients in oral healthcare
- Applying of pit and fissure sealants
- Performing screenings to identify indications of oral abnormalities
Dental hygienists in Washington D.C. are also permitted to monitor nitrous oxide and administer nitrous oxide and local anesthesia and place/remove periodontal dressings and temporary restoration under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.
If you want to become a licensed dental hygienist in Washington D.C., you must be prepared to complete the following:
Step 1. Complete an Educational Program in the Practice of Dental Hygiene
To achieve a dental hygienist license in Washington D.C., you must successfully complete an educational program in the practice of dental hygiene that is at least 2 academic years in length and is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association (ADA).
Although there is but one CODA-accredited dental hygiene program in Washington D.C., there are 7 programs in Maryland and 6 programs in Virginia.
A two-year CODA-accredited dental hygiene program culminates in an associate degree (A.A., A.S., or A.A.S.), while a four-year CODA-accredited program culminates in a bachelor degree (B.S.) in dental hygiene. Both programs are recognized by the American Dental Hygienists Association as entry-level programs, although the minimum degree requirement for licensure is an associate degree.
Dental hygienists who want to pursue additional opportunities in the field of dental hygiene often complete bachelor degrees in dental hygiene, as it may allow them to manage dental offices or work in research or educational settings. Further, master’s degrees in this profession are generally reserved for individuals who want to pursue careers in teaching, research, or in clinical practice outside of the dental office.
Step 2. Receive a Passing Score on the National Board of Dental Hygiene Examination
The National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE) through the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE) has become a standard assessment tool for the licensure of dental hygienists throughout the U.S., including the District of Columbia.
The NBDHE, which consists of 350 questions that are designed to assess a candidate’s basic dental hygiene knowledge, including biomedical, dental hygiene, and dental sciences, is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers throughout the United States. In Washington D.C., you may take the NBDHE at the Pearson VUE testing center on 1615 L Street NW or in nearby Bethesda, Maryland, or Alexandria or Vienna, Virginia.
Before you can schedule to take the NBDHE through Pearson VUE, you must apply through the JCNDE. Once your eligibility to sit for the exam has been verified by the JCNDE, you can expect an email from the JCNDE detailing examination scheduling appointment instructions.
Step 3. Receive a Passing Score on the Northeast Regional Board (NERB) Examination
Once you have successfully passed the NBDHE, you may then apply to take the Northeast Regional Board (NERB) of Dental Examiners practical examination. You can contact NERB and schedule your examination at the same time you begin the license application process. NERB schedules candidates, administers all examinations, scores the examinations, and notifies candidates of their test results. It is up to you, however, to ensure that your examination results are forwarded to the Board.
The NERB examination is offered at least 5 times a year: September, November, February, April, and July. One of the NERB examination sites is located at Howard University in Washington D.C. Contact NERB at 301-563-3300 to begin the application process.
Step 4. Receive a Passing Score on the District of Columbia Dental Law Examination
All applicants for licensure as a dental hygienist in Washington D.C. must take and pass the Dental Hygienist Written Take-Home Law Examination, which is designed to assess a candidate’s knowledge of the laws and rules pertaining to the practice of dentistry and dental hygiene in the District of Columbia.
Step 5. Apply for Licensure as a Dental Hygienist in Washington D.C.
To apply for a dental hygienist license by examination in Washington D.C., you must submit a completed and signed New License Application for Dental Hygiene to the Board and provide them with the following documentation:
- Two, recent passport-type photographs
- One clear photocopy of a government-issued photo ID
- The names and addresses of three persons (other than relatives, instructors, and employers) who have known you for at least one year and can attest to your character
- An official certificate of graduation from the dental hygiene program (must be a sealed envelope sent directly from the institution)
- NERB examination results (must be certified or validated by NERB)
- National Board of Dental Hygiene Examination results (must be certified or validated by the NBDHE; call the JCNDE at (312) 440-2500 to request your examination results)
- Complete a Criminal Background Check
- Related fees: The application fee for a dental hygienist is $85 and the DC Take Home Law Exam fee is $26. Applicants for a dental hygienist license must also pay a license fee of $134, while applicants for a dental hygienist license and authorization to administer local anesthesia and/or nitrous oxide must pay a license fee of $159.
The completed application and all related documents must be mailed to:
Department of Health
Health Professional Licensing Administration, Board of Dentistry
899 North Capitol Street NE
Washington, D.C. 20002
You can direct any questions to the Health Professional Licensing Administration’s toll-free customer service line at 1-877-258-9217.
Note: Licensed dental hygienists in D.C. may receive authorization by the Board to administer local anesthesia or nitrous oxide in Washington D.C. by completing the designated area on the licensure application and:
- Submitting a copy of a valid CPR certification
- Showing evidence of the completion of a training program or course of study in the administration of local anesthesia and nitrous oxide
- Showing evidence of the successful completion of a written examination in the administration of local anesthesia and nitrous oxide through the Northeast Regional Board of Dental Examiners (NERB) or any other agency approved by the Board
You may apply for initial licensure as a dental hygienist and apply for authorization to administer local anesthesia or nitrous oxide at the same time or apply for authorization to administer local anesthesia or nitrous oxide after you have become licensed to practice dental hygiene.
Step 6. Maintain Your Dental Hygienist License in Washington D.C.
All dental hygienist licenses in the District of Columbia expire on December 31 of odd-numbered years. You can expect to receive a renewal notice about 3 months before the expiration of your license.
To renew your dental hygienist license in D.C., you must complete a renewal questionnaire, submit the required continuing education documentation, and pay the renewal fee. The renewal process is completed online.
In Washington D.C., licensed dental hygienists must complete at least 15 hours of approved continuing education credit during every two-year period. Continuing education requirements include maintaining CPR certification and completing at least 2 hours of infection control training during the two-year licensure period.
No more than 8 continuing education units may be approved for internet courses during any renewal period.